Apr 9 2007

SharePoint Magic

Every now and then I stumble upon a piece of software that – after a few months of using it – I wonder how I ever lived without it.  My latest instance of this is SharePoint and it surprised even me.

I used to make fun of SharePoint when it was merely Microsoft’s Portal product (going back to 2000–ish.)  Folks I knew at Microsoft talked about the incredible number of seats they had sold, but I knew that they bundled it for free as part of their EA program.  Whenever it came up, I asked about the number of people that actually used SharePoint and often got blank stares.

In 2005, I first started hearing about Microsoft’s efforts to make Office a platform rather than just a set of desktop applications. There were lots of different names for the various technologies that Microsoft was going to incorporate into this platform – plenty of stuff ending in “Server” or “Platform Technology.”  In typical Microsoft fashion, they massaged and massaged and massaged this until they came up with MOSS (Microsoft Office SharePoint Services.)

MOSS is great.  We’ve been using a variety of web-based apps, including one for our Wiki.  We tried a few CRM approaches (including the incredibly disappointing Microsoft CRM – as happy as we are with SharePoint, we are equally unhappy with Microsoft CRM.)  For the hell of it we tossed up a SharePoint server and started playing with it – we’ve never looked back.

Interestingly, we are still only scratching the surface of SharePoint.  The Wiki functionality works great, we’ve got a number of databases built, and we are starting to use it for internal document management.  Exchange integration works nicely and we’ve actually managed to create the level of CRM system we need with it with zero outside consulting help.

That said, there are interesting weaknesses in the product which several of our portfolio companies can help with.  NewsGator has had simple integration with SharePoint around RSS for a while – look for a much deeper integration with MOSS coming soon.  Microsoft promises a “Hosted SharePoint” (um – SharePoint Live?) product (expect an announcement at Mix in a few weeks), and there is an opportunity for cleaner integration with non-Microsoft APIs, especially around blogging and user-generated content.

I love finding a gem where I wasn’t expecting it.