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The SharePoint Grade Card

I have now had a much larger exposure to SharePoint’s product offering, and I feel in a much better and knowledgeable place to assess the strength and weaknesses of the technology.  Like any product that attempts to serve a wide range of functionality there are going to be stronger and weaker areas.  One thing the SP team at Microsoft does well is addressing shortfalls in the technology as it matures.

I’ll evaluate each of, what I deem to be, the major functions and tools of SharePoint.  OK, let’s get started.

Windows SharePoint Services – A

Windows SharePoint Services or WSS is now in its third major iteration.  It is the core that MOSS is built upon, and it is where the strength of SharePoint lies.  From it’s incredible Office integration, task and document management, and web part personalization options WSS is what caught my eye and made me desire a career change.There are some minor headaches and pitfalls, but certainly not enough to warrant anything less than an “A” in this category.

Social Networking Capability – B-

Unfortunately, SP didn’t do what I would’ve liked to see in this category.  They introduced “My Sites” in MOSS, but adding colleagues isn’t intuitive and the feature turns into a personal SharePoint site instead of a robust social networking tool for the enterprise.

Blogs and wikis were also introduced in WSS 3, and the inclusion of them is promising but the implementation is poor.  The blog is feature-less allowing only categories and less than impressive personalization features.  The wiki is super basic, and it leaves me confounded on how it seems so quickly implemented.  A look at the benchmark, MediaWiki, will show the lack of robustness in the SP implementation.

Enterprise Search – B+

The MS work on their search in MOSS is surprisingly amazing.  While many companies introduce search replacements for MOSS, often times they are trying to fix poorly architect edsearch solutions with the MS offering.

The search in SP offers many options for optimal information architecture including best bets, search logging/analysis, search scopes, and much more.  It’s impressive to say the least.  The crawler is also very, very effective with filters to spider other forms of content.  They even introduced federated search to this offering, and it makes it all-the-more impressive.

The only reason this doesn’t get an “A” is the search results and placing search in the default interface isn’t worth the high grade although this can be edited by any capable designer.

Business Intelligence – C+

Default business intelligence in SP is less than stellar.  Although key performance indicators (KPI) are in the offering it is simply a graphical display of business data.  Corporations need far more robust diagramming and analysis tools for true business intelligence, and it has been a ripe area for other companies to pick up what is lacking in this feature.

Excel Services is an interesting addition to this as it allows the graphing and analysis of Excel data which is the most rudimentary of business database and business intelligence applications.  I look forward to this being beefed up in the next version of SP.

Web Content Management – B

Web Content Management or WCM was one of my specialties in my last business that shares the name of this site.  I chose WordPress as my tool of choice, but there are fantastic tools including Drupal, Dot Net Nuke, Graffiti CMS, and many others that do a fantastic job with each having their own strengths and weaknesses.

The SP offering of WCM has moved them from solely a intranet/extranet tool into the Internet realm.  WCM is also done differently than or web CMS’.  SP uses metadata in a single list to control what content is available to the page creator in SP Designer.  Creating page layouts then becomes foundational to all SP WCM. Even though pages can be created and metadata is more focused on then other tools such as WordPress or Drupal it still leaves much to be desired.

The workflow of creating metadata to then be used on any form of WCM pages I find quite restricting, and it ultimately slows down the contributor who understands nothing about the WCM architecture.  Inline editing of the content is also less than impressive.  The rich text editor is shaky at best, and the constant need for modal windows hinders usability for the contributor.  To edit the “backend” is only a list without a robust administration interface found in other popular CMS’.

SharePoint Designer and Interface – D

I’m putting both the default interface and SP Designer in the same category since they are so inter-related.  The default interface is clunky, navigation is abundant but poorly implemented, and the “obviousness” of the SP interface is less than obvious.  Also, in the interface the markup is absolutely horrendous.  Typical of ASP.NET controls it outputs horrendous markup.  This hinders accessibility, ease of branding, and even in the realm of SEO when using SP for public-facing sites.  The markup reminds me of what MS is all-to-often ridiculed for lack of web standards awareness.

SP Designer is the approved tool to brand the SP interface.  It’s built on the legacy of FrontPage, and it’s capability and interface is very reminiscent of FrontPage.  However, seemingly they are learning from their rich IDE in Visual Studio and allowed it to influence the designer options and functionality.  If it weren’t for the ability to open up the content database I would never, ever use the tool.  It is expensive, bulky, and there are free editors that make SP Designer look amateur.

The ability to do XSLT in a GUI manner is an interesting perspective, and it makes such a difficult topic somewhat attainable by a non-XML/XSLT expert.  Also, the workflow wizard is actually quite impressive.  Although it has limitations I was able to create a rather complex workflow with logic rather painlessly.

Looking Forward

I’m hoping that these deficiencies will be address and strengths strengthened in the next version of SharePoint.  I understand much of what I criticized is still “version 1.0,” and I expect it to mature.  SharePoint is a powerful platform, and I expect it to continue to dominate the ECM market for years to come.

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