Microsoft’s SharePoint is projected to cross the $1 billion threshold in sales this year according to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. SharePoint, which was released to a lukewarm reception in 2001, has become a key linchpin in Microsoft’s strategy regarding remote and collaborative computing. More recently, a SharePoint solution was even implemented to share and distribute pertinent information for the Beijing Olympics. SharePoint now ships as a free service with Windows Server products which means it is available to virtually all environments with a Windows Server.
SharePoint was originally designed to compete with IBM/Lotus Notes, and that remains its primary competitor, but it has also developed into a way to compete with the emerging lineup of online application suites from Google and Zoho. With SharePoint, the concept is not so much for Microsoft to have applications like Google Docs, but rather to provide a platform for its myriad of business customers to develop their own in-house applications that take care of any need for applications like those. For a more detailed look at the changes that SharePoint has progressed through during the last few years, see The Evolution of Microsoft SharePoint.
SharePoint is built upon both Internet Information Server (IIS) and Microsoft SQL Server, both of which have a wide developer base already in place inside corporate America. So, when the Vice President of Marketing walks in one day wanting to put his team on a system like Zoho Applications or the 37signals lineup of products, the IT department can counter with quick development of an application that provides the specific function the VP is looking for using servers, systems, and development expertise that is already in house, all without having to hand over control to outsiders. And, therein lies SharePoint’s biggest strength.
For all the talk of cloud computing, and the great enthusiasm with which end users have embraced online applications, there is still a lingering nervousness inside company computer departments when it comes to these applications. It is easy to point a finger at self-preservation, why have an IT department when Google Apps is run for us for free? But, there are real concerns as well. Top on the list is security. Sure, every online player talks about their security and privacy policies, but at the end of the day, the best case scenario is “trust me." Google has a huge stake in not being hacked or having customer data compromised, but that doesn’t mean they can’t silently peak over your shoulder. It may be paranoia, but with the data travelling inside your own network and stored and backed up on your own servers, you can be sure.
In the end, SharePoint may just be one of Microsoft’s greatest weapons in the battle for market share against the up and coming companies and their low cost online applications.