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Sharepoint’s Real Competition – Exchange

I am in my early forties and I am frightening close the 300 lbs – I’m not prone to giggle. When I read Shawn Shell’s post on CMSWatch about an internal debate at Microsoft about Shared Folders vs. Sharepoint I giggled like a school girl. An imagined exchange played out in my head peppered with grandiose terms like “synergy” and accusations of the one group against another  not wanting to be “team players.” However entertaining the speculation may be, the future relationship between Exchange, Outlook and Sharepoint is far from certain.

A Rose by Any Other Name

We write ALOT about the threat of Sharepoint upsetting our ECM apple cart but we often don’t discuss the far reaching nature of the disruption the platform is causing. Sharepoint, when all the marketing and hoopla is stripped away it isn’t ECM anyway. It’s really just Microsoft Portal with tightly coupled workgroup functions – some of which deal with content. It may be a portal but they ignored JSR everything, wrote their own portlet spec and called them webparts. (arguably the worst name in technology – might as well have called them naughty bits) They even call it portal services yet we rarely speak of it as the shell it is.

The way I see it, they already had the O/S, the content creation tools (Office), the security model (Active Directory) , and enterprise agreements with millions of clients – Sharepoint should have been the easiest pitch in the history of software. The one billion in sales supports, if not proves this idea outright. It’s hardly a strategic decision these days – its more like an impulse buy at the checkout stand.

History Repeats Itself

Sharepoint’s ability to scale is often challenged and here is where it could take a few architecture lessons from its older brother. The evil little voice in my head though is whispering – “email is content too. Do you really need 2 ways to manage it.” “Email is a type of collaboration – is it really that much of a stretch to bring the two together?” Well no – its been done before with some success – remember Lotus? IBM collected all of the pieces. Sametime, Quickplace, ccMail, Domino, etc. – then along came Websphere Portal and the wheels fell off the strategy. Clearly IBM is worried now. Barb Mosher’s post on CMSWire will tell you more about that.

So now the light comes on at Microsoft and people start asking uncomfortable questions about simple ideas. How hard can moving public folders be? It’s just drag and drop right? There aren’t any security, metadata, scale, performance, usability, administration, retention, training, integration, or process problems to solve. Hee Hee – I forgot to mention special characters not working in Sharepoint folder names …… Sorry for the break – I fell out of my chair.

The idea that Exchange and Sharepoint could one day merge into a common platform is a fascinating idea. It will not be easy nor will the additional overhead to already overtaxed email systems be appreciated. It’s probably a bad idea at the very heart of it though and perhaps I’ll explore why later.

A New Outlook

Take a gander at Documentum’s Client for Outlook. I love the very idea of it – Documentum embedded with the ubiquitous email client UI. Why not Sharepoint? Oh, but there’s the problem. Whose product do you want on the title bar. People shouldn’t access SharePoint from Outlook, they should access Exchange from Sharepoint.   Quite a conundrum for the product managers. At the end of the day – you have to have a stage to be at the center of it. So Bill, which is it going to be?

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