Q&A: Microsoft SharePoint VP hails 'Swiss Army Knife' software platform

Microsoft this week rolled out the red carpet for the upcoming SharePoint 2010 collaboration platform. This release offers tight integration with the Visual Studio 2010 platform and a host of other functions such as offline support. SharePoint Server 2010 goes into a beta release next month.

This week's Microsoft SharePoint 2009 conference in Las Vegas sold out, attracting 7,400 persons. During the conference, InfoWorld editor at large Paul Krill talked with Jeff Teper, Microsoft corporate vice president of SharePoint Server, about the new release and its relationship to the open source movement, as well as other aspects of the platform.

[ Also on InfoWorld: At the conference, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer offered his perspectives on SharePoint and IT as a driver of economic recovery. ]

You mentioned SharePoint as a Swiss Army Knife for IT. Would you elaborate on that? In the past, you had to buy a separate product for document management and Web publishing and portals and search and blogs and wikis, and SharePoint 2007 brought all those capabilities together in a single product. I think that's something no other vendor has done. In SharePoint 2010, we added a lot of depth to each of those capabilities. I don't think there's anybody else out there that's got a single product with, say, wikis and business intelligence portals in the same offering.

Do you really think there's nothing out there that competes with SharePoint? We get compared to everything from Facebook to SAP. But at the same time, we do think there is no single offering in the market that is anywhere near as broad as SharePoint, that we bring more capabilities together in an integrated Web solution than anybody else by far. I think that's a fair statement. That's different than saying we have everything that all the other guys have combined. I think we have the most of anything by far, but we don't have everything everybody else has.

How does SharePoint compete with something like open source when it seems like everybody's talking about open source, even Microsoft to a degree? Is Microsoft concerned about somebody coming up with an open-source answer to SharePoint? That's part of the success of SharePoint. People will target it from different sides, so there are going to be some open source solutions. The ones that are out there tend to cover a small percentage of what we do, just like how OpenOffice tried to compete with Office. It's a validation of the success. I don't think there's anything out there in the open-source world that's competitive to SharePoint from an all-out perspective, but I would expect a lot of activity from that.

What open-source products would compete? A lot of them are tool kits for building Web sites, which are sort of lower level than SharePoint. A few years ago, there were some things called Plone and Zope that were open-source Web publishing systems, but those have sort of gone by the wayside. Basically, the things that come closest have been PHP tool kits for building Web sites, but they really don't do as much as we do for the full set of publishing and collaboration tasks.

Is there any chance of Microsoft open sourcing anything in SharePoint? No. What we've done is actually foster a community on top. So if you go to CodePlex, I think there's 800 or 900 open-source projects out there in the industry building on top of SharePoint, which we think is great. We're not huge fans of, say, the security model of SharePoint being open sourced or the Web publishing model. It's sort of like where Office and Windows and so forth are. We think the business model where we invest sort of $1 billion in R&D and monetize that as a good business model, but that all the value add around it, we definitely think there's a role for open source. And we're fostering this CodePlex community that's got upward of 1,000 apps already built on SharePoint.

Now these are open-source applications that function with SharePoint? Yes. [Examples include] different kinds of Web Parts [widgets] that get stock quotes or the weather, administration tools that help clean up your sites.

What are the advantages to using SharePoint over other technologies for e-commerce or a Web site? First and foremost, it saves people money. Kraft.com is running their Web site, actually a lot of Web sites, on SharePoint and they saved $2 million in doing that. So the biggest thing is people are focused on saving money right now, and then the second is the ease of use. Businesspeople want to get their content out to their commerce site faster than they do today. SharePoint makes that easier than traditional homegrown Web publishing systems.

How does Kraft know they're saving $2 million? They looked at the cost that they were spending to build, license and maintain their various existing sites and compared that to what they are spending on SharePoint and added up the difference. It's not hard if you've got 10 different systems and you look at them and say, "Wow, I've written 10 different systems, tons of custom code, I'm going to move them all to SharePoint and write some code," but not as much to look at the software savings and the development savings and have it add up to be that amount of money.

Are there any capabilities for developing SharePoint applications using PHP, IronRuby, or IronPython? Not so much directly, but what we've tried to do is, through things like Web services and REST and Atom, expose standard protocols for SharePoint so that you could build apps in front of it on Windows Server. So if you wanted to write something in IronPython and Windows Server, you could, but also, just on any system, if somebody's got a Linux PHP-based Web site, they're going to be able to call SharePoint via REST or SOAP or any other of the mechanisms we have. Part of the approach has been to open up SharePoint data for any back end.

What if I wanted to develop a major e-commerce site with SharePoint? Would I be limited with PHP or IronRuby or IronPython? No. Think of it as all the APIs are the same. It's just that within Visual Studio we give you the wizards, the things that generate code for you. You'd have to write that code yourself in PHP, so there's no limit. It's just that we give you the better development tools in Visual Studio.

What's the price of SharePoint 2010? Is that determined yet? It's not announced yet.

But it's been determined? It's been determined.

Is it going to be higher than the 2007 version of SharePoint? I would not characterize [it as] that. For the most part, no. We announced today that there will be a version for the Internet that's actually going [to have] a much lower price point. What we announced today is a new SharePoint for Internet Sites [standard edition] that's priced lower.

SharePoint 2010 is limited to 64-bit systems, which means you can only use it on which Windows platforms? We run on Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2, and we need to be running on a 64-bit operating system and 64-bit hardware, Intel or AMD 64-bit chips. Anything Intel or AMD has made for servers in the last couple of years is all 64-bit, so it's really not an issue except for the customers who are looking to use sort of four- or five-year-old hardware that may be 32-bit only.

What kind of access are you looking at for SharePoint as far as SharePoint access from phones? We have had a tuned experience for mobile browsers, which lets you see people, documents, do searches, view office documents on a mobile browser regardless of the platform. And then there's some extra work we're doing on Windows Mobile to let that work in a disconnected way. So if you want to take your SharePoint documents onto the device and, say, you don't have connectivity. You're sitting on the plane in airplane mode and you want to look at that PowerPoint presentation, you can do that on Windows Mobile. But the primary thing we've done this round is broad mobile browser support, so if you're on a BlackBerry, etc., with a mobile browser, you'll be able to view your SharePoint content.

There was a mention of additional browser support. Is that just referring to mobile or is there more for desktop browsers also? [We will support] Firefox, Safari and so forth.

Do you support those now? In SharePoint 2010 we do.

What about in SharePoint 2007? With more caveats, yes in 2007. There's a list of features that work better in Internet Explorer in 2007, and in 2010 that list is basically gone.

There was some mention of limitations on the Macintosh as far as SharePoint. Can you tell me what those are? There's sort of two things on the Mac. One is accessing SharePoint in a Safari browser, which we now do in a richer way. The second is Office on Windows, [which] as you can imagine, has some capabilities Office on the Mac doesn't, including just making it easy to open and save documents to a SharePoint site directly from the Office client. A while ago, the Mac Office team released an update so that Mac Office can open and save documents to SharePoint as well. That's not new for SharePoint 2010, but it was something that didn't exist when we released SharePoint 2007 three years ago.

Are there any security issues with running SharePoint Online, the cloud version of SharePoint? No. If anything, I think because we're very rigorous about the approach to security and companies are going to find we're going to have a better lockdown security plan than they can often afford to do themselves in their own IT department.

What's the link between the Windows Azure cloud platform and SharePoint? That both of them run in Microsoft's cloud, as part of Microsoft Online. There'll be some interesting places where SharePoint takes advantage of some Azure technology. You might want to build an app in Azure and connect it to SharePoint as a front end.

Wouldn't you just redeploy SharePoint onto Azure? We'll go into details on that later next year. But directionally, yes, there'll be some Azure services that SharePoint builds on.

Are there any features you wanted to get in SharePoint 2010 that didn't get in there that might get in in a future version? I think the list of things we got in is long enough that we have a hard time getting people to digest it. But we're not done. We've got more to do.

Microsoft is promising it's not going to be difficult to upgrade to SharePoint 2010. You mentioned that Visual Upgrade tool for upgrades. Obviously, the simplest upgrade we could do is [if] you didn't even notice it got upgraded, and so that was the design point. And then let people turn on their new features as they're ready. So that's the goal. A big part of the beta process is to have people -- imagine the 7,000 people here going home, getting the beta in November, trying it out with upgrade, and telling us whether it worked or not. And we'll address that feedback.

Now if a customer wanted to know three or four reasons why he would want to move to the 2010 version if the 2007 version is working fine for them, what would you tell them? It's a long list, so let me get it down to two or three. [One is] ease of use. You think about people collaborating all day long on the Web, the usability is just much better: the [Office] ribbon, the AJAX work, the Office integration, taking it offline. The second thing is the developer features. SharePoint turns into a really robust development platform this round with Visual Studio support and the sandbox. People who were building apps on SharePoint are now a lot more excited; it'll be much easier to do than on 2007. And then, gosh, the third area is sort of pick your favorite feature: social networking, BI. I think the new My Sites [capability], for example, so you can track what's going on inside your company, all your colleagues, your interests, your expertise sort of flowing around the organization. I think that's a pretty mainstream thing.

Think of [My Sites] as a sort of Facebook for your company inside the firewall. It's actually existed [in SharePoint] since 2003, but we added so many more capabilities to it that it's going to feel like a major upgrade to people.

This story, "Microsoft SharePoint VP hails 'Swiss Army Knife' software platform," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in Microsoft SharePoint on InfoWorld.com.

This story, "Q&A: Microsoft SharePoint VP hails 'Swiss Army Knife' software platform" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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