Microsoft addresses Yammer integration plans at SharePoint conference

The company presented a road map for meshing Yammer and SharePoint

Microsoft will shine the spotlight this week on SharePoint's new 2013 version at a conference devoted to the popular collaboration server, but recently acquired Yammer may grab substantial attention.

While Microsoft has detailed SharePoint 2013's many new features in recent months, it hasn't provided much color regarding how SharePoint will be fused with the cloud-hosted Yammer enterprise social networking software.

Microsoft started to address those burning questions on Monday at its SharePoint Conference 2012 in Las Vegas with an initial integration road map for the two products.

Before Microsoft bought Yammer for US$1.2 billion in July, enterprises had been able to integrate SharePoint and Yammer to an extent using their respective APIs (application programming interfaces). However, Microsoft announced on Monday that it is working to deepen that through unified identity, combined document management and aggregation of their respective notification feeds.

Later, much deeper integration among Yammer, SharePoint and other Microsoft products will follow, officials said.

Microsoft also announced that it is eliminating Yammer's Business edition, and that it is slashing the price of the more sophisticated Enterprise edition from $15 to $3 per user per month.

In addition, Microsoft will bundle Yammer Enterprise with SharePoint Online, the cloud-hosted version of the product, which can be bought on a stand-alone basis or as part of the broader Office 365 suite.

Beyond Yammer, Microsoft also announced native SharePoint mobile applications for Windows 8, Windows Phone, iOS and Android devices. The mobile applications will give users access to SharePoint 2013 news feeds and documents.

"SharePoint 2013 is pivotal because it's the beginning of a new era," said Jared Spataro, senior director of SharePoint Product Marketing, during a two-hour keynote that opened the conference.

Specifically, this release represents the last of the big three-year upgrades for the product and introduces a more iterative, 90-day cycle of improvements focused on SharePoint Online, he said.

Spataro and other Microsoft speakers, including Jeff Teper, SharePoint corporate vice president, made it clear that the company prefers that customers use SharePoint Online instead of installing the product on premise.

"We recommend moving to the cloud for the best performance overall," Teper said. For customers not ready to run SharePoint in the cloud, SharePoint 2013 offers the biggest update of the product ever, he added.

In fact, much of the conference, which runs through Thursday, will be devoted to discussing in detail the long list of improvements in SharePoint 2013 for IT professionals, end users and developers that have been announced in recent months and described in blog posts and online guides.

Those include a redesign of the user interface that follows the new Windows 8 "Modern" style, which has been optimized for touchscreens, as well as the addition of SkyDrive Pro for storing and synchronizing documents.

SharePoint 2013, which will ship in the first quarter of next year, also features improved task management and a revamped search engine, as well as more sophisticated e-discovery and Web publishing capabilities.

With SharePoint 2013, Microsoft is also introducing a new Web application development model for creating SharePoint applications that allows programmers to use familiar languages including JavaScript, PHP and .Net, and tools such as Visual Studio 2012 and the new "Napa" Office 365 Development Tools.

SharePoint, which first shipped in 2001, is used primarily by enterprises to build websites -- intranets, public sites, forums, blogs, wikis -- as well as for storing, searching and managing documents, with the ultimate purpose of letting users interact and collaborate in various ways.

Although SharePoint has been a successful product -- it now generates about $2 billion in annual revenue -- it has been faulted by some for not being end-user friendly and, in recent years, for lacking enterprise social networking (ESN) capabilities.

Microsoft's surprising decision to buy Yammer was seen as an acknowledgement of that last criticism. Yammer had been a leading independent ESN vendor, along with others like Jive Software and NewsGator. ESN software products offer users social media features popularized by companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter but adapted for a workplace setting and featuring controls for IT departments.

ESN software typically includes individual profiles, activity streams, status updates, microblogging, document sharing, online groups, discussion forums, content tagging, blogs and the like. It also offers the ability to integrate these social collaboration capabilities with third-party business applications, like CRM (customer relationship management), ERP (enterprise resource planning), unified communications and office productivity suites.

Fans of ESN software maintain that it can make traditional collaboration and business software more dynamic and effective, as well as more engaging for users. Microsoft had been adding native ESN functionality to SharePoint, and it had also worked closely with pure-play ESN vendors like NewsGator to add an ESN feature layer to SharePoint.

In these efforts, Microsoft isn't alone. Other large collaboration and business software vendors that have developed ESN products include IBM, Cisco Systems, and SAP.

Microsoft has previously said that it envisions integrating Yammer not just with SharePoint but also with Office, Lync, Dynamics CRM and other products.

At the same time, Yammer has been putting a special effort into simplifying the way its software can be made into components and meshed with third-party business applications.

Adam Pisoni, Yammer co-founder, said ESN software can transform the way businesses operate by providing a platform for increased and more effective collaboration and engagement among employees.

To accomplish that, ESN software needs to be integrated into the business applications that people spend most of their day working on, he said. The chance to deepen Yammer's integration with SharePoint, Office and other Microsoft products was a big motivation for the acquisition, said Pisoni, who is now engineering general manager in Microsoft's Office Division.

"People spend most of their time in Office, and that's why we were so excited to join Microsoft," he said.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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