SharePoint Conference 2009 Keynote Highlights

It was as we expected. Put Steve Ballmer on the stage, and you have lots of Supers and other traditional Microspeak expressions. But also, you got a surprisingly solid, clear vision of where Microsoft is going with SharePoint. Jeff Teper then went on to discuss some of the new end-user features with no less passion. Microsoft’s keynotes have certainly been improving during the last year.

Without further ado, here are my highlights for the SPC 2009 keynote. It’s not exactly short, but believe me, it’s quite abbreviated from all the information.

Beta available in November, renaming, new SKUs

No, there won’t be a SharePoint 2010 beta during SPC. The beta will be available in November. The RTM should be available during the first half of the next year – in practice, I think we’re looking at June. MJF seems to agree. As a side note, Visual Studio 2010 beta 2 was pushed out onto MSDN today, and will be publicly available on Wednesday. This will, as I’ll discuss later, have an impact on SharePoint as well.

Unfortunately, licensing and the product management seems to get even murkier. Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) is now named SharePoint Foundation, while MOSS gets a rename to SharePoint Server. But that’s not all: there are special versions with FAST search technology integrated, different editions for Internet publishing and so on. Somebody on Twitter counted no less than 10 different SKUs, but I didn’t check that. Ouch anyway.

New end-user features

Social media will continue its march into SharePoint. My Sites and Search will be improved in various ways to make it easier to locate information and competence inside the organization. Tagging, taxonomies and document ratings (1-5 stars) are intended to make it easier to locate the proper content in document libraries growing all the time. Speaking of that, size limits for SharePoint lists and document libraries are pretty much gone. We’re now talking about tens of millions of documents inside a single document library.

UI-wise, we’re seeing changes as elements familiar from Office Client march onto SharePoint. The contextual Ribbon and the 2010-launching Office Backstage view are integrated in all relevant SharePoint screens. Several key areas such as Business Intelligence require considerable integration between the client and server UIs. Having the same UI elements on both ends eases up the transition between the contexts greatly.

Finally, everything should now work seamlessly on Firefox and Safari, including the multi-user web-based editing of Office documents.

End users as developers

Microsoft is putting a lot of focus on improving the quick development capabilities of SharePoint 2010. From my perspective, there seem to be two key aspects to this: First, business end users are encouraged to create their own business mashups. Second, the actual developer experience has received a lot of work, improving the cost-effectiveness of SharePoint products.

The end user development story seems particularly powerful. New additions such as Access Services and facelifts of old features such as BDC (now known as BCS, Business Connectivity Services) enable scenarios such as implementing a two-way connection between a SharePoint list and a database table without writing a single line of code. Typically, one would expect the applications to be mostly data entry and reporting interfaces, gradually growing into BI portals and dashboards.

Developer productivity improvements

From the developer perspective, it would seem that the hardships that were an intimate part of SharePoint 2007 development are being brushed away – if only the technology works right. The keynote contained a rather convincing demo of Visual Studio 2010 features that allow visual design of web parts, features and packages. If all that becomes reality, a lot of manual XML writing becomes unnecessary.

Looking at the development platform, the most significant change is the possibility to run SharePoint on Windows 7 and Vista, enabling a far more comfortable experience for building a SharePoint site and testing out different implementation alternatives. Also, Visual Studio 2010 supports a single-click deploy & debug experience, enabling a far more seamless, modern development experience. Unfortunately, the new tooling will not help developers stuck with the 2007 version of SharePoint.

Sandboxed applications

In order to be a real application platform, SharePoint needs to handle various features and applications running at the same time. Until 2010, the installation model of SharePoint packages hasn’t exactly made anyone confident: Any package could theoretically mess up the whole installation.

Microsoft’s solution to this is the possibility to use sandboxing to protect the site from the applications, as well as shield the SharePoint applications from each other. In essence, sandboxed apps can be written inside Visual Studio just like normal SharePoint features. They will have a more limited set of APIs available, but they can also be installed and uninstalled with far less hassle. Also, throttling based on CPU/memory/database usage is possible, giving IT administrators final control over what’s going on.

Cloud support

SharePoint Online is getting a lot of love this release. The Online option is being pushed as a full-fledged alternative to on-premises hosting. While still a bit thin in details, the strategy seems parallel to what Microsoft was pushing with Exchange Server: Even a single organization can split its needs between on-premise installation and a cloud-hosted one.

Also, an important addition is the possibility to run sandboxed solutions in the cloud. This fact alone changes the role of SharePoint Online drastically. Instead of being just the static, simple document repository, the Online offering can now be customized almost like the on-premises installation. With the aggressive pricing BPOS uses, SharePoint Online is going to be quite an interesting offering. Given its newly-added list capacity and strong BI integration, it might even make an (possibly unplanned?) entry into the xRM space, possibly attacking the market share of Microsoft CRM.

Improved support for Internet-facing sites

Microsoft is looking aggressively at pushing SharePoint into the Internet scene as well. Earlier, SharePoint’s content management features have been decent but not great, and the pricing of the External Connector license has kept lots of Internet projects at bay. Now Microsoft is announcing a new edition called “SharePoint Server for Internet sites” specifically geared for Internet publishing. No licensing information yet, so evaluating the pricing impact is too early – but at least the issue has been noticed in Redmond. Looking at how aggressive Microsoft has lately been, I would expect a significant cut.

On the feature side, new additions such as rich media integration (Silverlight support, video streaming etc.) and an enhanced editing experience (spell checking, full-fidelity copy/paste from Office applications) are an incentive to move into SharePoint. The polished design experience certainly provides a natural continuum to Office-driven content generation. WCAG accessibility compliance, easier styling and similar changes are additional bonuses that will be key to getting more demanding web sites to run on SharePoint.

What else?

I left out a lot. In particular, the search and BI stories would deserve more space than I’ve given them. The offline experience with the SharePoint Workspace (formerly known as Groove) and the mobile interface actually expand SharePoint’s reach considerably. Also, the ability to leverage the web-editing for Office documents is a vast topic, and one whose true potential still remains to be seen. The IT administrator perspective (can you say over 500 PowerShell commandlets, for example?) is yet another wholly untouched, but greatly improved area.

As usual in conferences like this, it’s a barrage of information. And I expect the next six months to be hilariously hectic as new details roll out, existing plans change and finally, the bits gets pushed out.

But hey, isn’t all this buzz exactly the reason we are in this business?

October 19, 2009 · Jouni Heikniemi · One Comment
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Cloud, Information Worker, Web

One Response

  1. Veronique - October 19, 2009

    Nicely done, thank you.

Leave a Reply