I was been on vacation last week, so I suppose I’ve missed the first wave of reaction to Steve’s post, but the reaction seems to have been strong and dismissive. Being totally dismissive seems closed-minded to me.
When I posted this to Twitter and Facebook, the reactions I got back were things like this:
“i find it incredibly ignorant”
“Just the art of provoking.”
“i think he needs to get out more.”
It seems that reactions tend to be violent and percussive when someone starts attacking the bottom line. Fear drives more rapid reactions than ennui. What I see happening with the Bamboo article seems more like one of those fear reactions. Because there could seem to be an ounce of truth to it, people want to believe it to be tripe. Of course, only time will tell whether the article is prescient or just another road kill on the highway if the InterWebs.There are some trends, recent history, and signs which *might* give the theory some validity. Here are some of my thoughts on the whole thing.
I’m an MVP, Dang It!
As an MVP for SharePoint, it might surprise you to know that I’m privy to very little information that I haven’t picked up on the Interwaves. Maybe I’m missing the memos or the conference calls or something (if I am, please someone clue me in) or maybe I’m just not paying attention in the “right” way. I think many people believe that we MVPs are invited to the product teams’ houses for holidays and we get to name their children, but at least in my case, I find that I don’t know a heck of a lot more than you folks. (The few “juicy” details I’ve heard about SharePoint vNext so far aren’t really worth talking about, anyway.)
SharePoint *will* go away. The questions are just when and what will initiate the process. We all know that, right? (Well, some of you younger readers may not believe it as firmly as us older folks. Remember your favorite TV show from when you were a kid? It’s not on anymore.)
The Marketing Anathema
Put yourself in the shoes of the Marketing people at Microsoft who are responsible for the SharePoint brand. They have some choices, which you are all familiar with from the consumer world. They can extend the brand – think Tabasco. (Microsoft Office, now with SharePoint! Microsoft Street and Trips, now better than ever, with SharePoint baked right in!) Or, they can expand the brand. Microsoft SharePoint eCommerce. Microsoft SharePoint Windows. At some point, though, they will have to realize that the brand is not longer as valuable as it once was, or has even become a detriment. That’s when the SharePoint brand will begin to disappear. Now maybe that’s already started to happen. It’s Office365, which contains SharePoint Online, not just SharePoint Online. These branding and marketing decisions aren’t sad or upsetting, they are a natural part of the lifecycle of a product. We don’t buy Oldsmobiles anymore, or Edsels, or or Avantis. They were all fine brands in their day, but they all disappeared for one reason or another. We drive their descendants; in some cases, the lineage is very clear, in other cases, it isn’t.
How Long Do We Have?
Some of us who are on the SharePoint circuit discuss the lifecycle of SharePoint at the events we go to, either as attendees or speakers. One person has asked me repeatedly “How much longer do you think we have? What is there going to be after SharePoint for us?” I never have had good answers for these questions – I’m not omniscient– but they are questions worth pondering. *Especially* for those of us who answer the question “What do you do?” with “SharePoint,”, we *have* to be asking these questions. If we don’t we may unexpectedly end up selling pencils on the street corner.
The upside of all of this is that SharePoint as we know it will not be going anywhere very soon at all, barring some external catastrophe. There will be people running SharePoint 2010 for years, just as there are people still running SharePoint 2007, and even SharePoint 2003. (I think I actually heard someone mention still running SharePoint 2001 somewhere off in a corner a few months ago, but I didn’t believe it. Still running an over-ten-year-old technology? Bah! Can’t happen. Everyone’s retired Windows XP, right? Internet Explorer 6?)
Is It Good Enough?
The question that each of us needs to ask ourselves is how we want to play the long tail. Some of us will decide to be SharePointilists until we retire, just as there are still people in their 50s who plan to be COBOL jocks until they move to sunnier climes. Others of us will decide that what we love about SharePoint isn’t SharePoint, but what it enables and therefore we will move along to the next great thing, whatever it may be. Don’t be the person who unwittingly ends up in the pencil business.
I’d love to see SharePoint give it another go ’round as a product, and I firmly believe that we will see SharePoint 2013 (or whatever the sorcerers decide to call it). Remember that I have no special information which allows me to say that. What I do think will happen, though, is that SharePoint 2013 will continue to be behind the times in terms of using Web technology effectively.
A brand schism may be exactly what we need to surmount this. Some young upstart will absolutely come along and steal SharePoint’s lunch if the user experience doesn’t more closely mirror the consumer web (“Facebook for the Enterprise”, anyone?). The amount of work it takes to build out business systems with SharePoint at the base will begin to look archaic soon, and in some ways it already does. (A joke I heard recently: What’s an “enterprise-class application”? One that takes over 200 developers to keep it running.)
Upgrading existing versions of SharePoint to meet the demands of the new wave of users may simply be prohibitive. There may not be a clean, automated way to upgrade all of that spaghetti code that developers have built in the last 10 years using the SharePoint Object Model. I know that there will have to be a fundamental change in the way SharePoint pages are rendered that will cause SPServices to break entirely. Whether it will be this next version or not, I have no idea. In fact, I was really, truly, surprised that SharePoint 2010 didn’t make SPServices totally break. We’re operating with a forms UI which hasn’t changed all that much since about 2005, when the first betas were available for SharePoint 2007. (You can debate me on this all you want, but I dig into the HTML markup for SharePoint for a living, and much of that markup hasn’t changed significantly, especially in the list forms.). After a while, you stop putting lipstick on the pig, have some bacon for breakfast, and raise some new piglets.
Insularity Feels Good
One of the best things about SharePoint is its incredible sense of community. The downside of that is that the community can be somewhat insular. It turns away from negative things about SharePoint (or simply focused on a different set of negatives) and draws together against common foes. That can be both a good and a bad thing.
If you get out into the wild and talk to executives in organizations that have implemented SharePoint, you might be surprised to hear what some of their questions are. Things like “What has this huge investment done for us”” or “Are our people actually working more effectively together?” (They wouldn’t be asking the latter if the benefits were obvious.) They don’t ask about whether User Profile Synchronization is working well or what the right governance model for code deployment ought to be.
Ten years down the road from the first release of SharePoint, having these be some of the major questions is alarming. The norm in the SharePoint community is to say things like “Well, they just don’t get it.” Of course they get it. They’ve paid the bill and they want something back for their investment. So we SharePoint practitioners need to be constantly looking at what we are doing and asking “Is this good enough?” Rarely is it good enough; there’s always room for improvement. Those of us who don’t take the time for this sort of honest introspection remind me of one of my favorite quotes in the entire SharePoint sphere, from Dux Raymond Sy: “SharePoint doesn’t suck; you suck!”
SharePoint’s strong brand has been to it’s detriment on some levels. It’s not “our developers/implementers suck”, but “SharePoint sucks”, which is obviously bad for its makers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the rank and file at organizations say “I’ll put that into SharePoint”. While that’s a great statement to hear (they are putting it into SharePoint, which is probably the goal), SharePoint isn’t what *their* application is. It’s their Intranet or their Team Site, not their “SharePoint”.
SharePoint Subsumed by SaaS?
Moving from “on premises” to “software as a service” doesn’t seem all that far-fetched to me. The major players in the marketplace – the upstarts – that have been eroding the big boy’s market share over the last ten years or so have been the SaaS crowd. They tend to be more nimble, have tighter release cycles, and seem to have far better market-sensing antenna than the old guard. The old guard is no doubt sensing that to remain relevant, they need to adapt.
With Office365, Microsoft has gone “all in” (their phrase, not mine) with The Cloud. The cloud is nothing more that the next-gen SaaS or what we used to call time-sharing back in the day. We’ve seen shifts back and forth on this the the 30 years or so that I’ve been in the business.
Think about the promise of Office365, which very definitely can be considered SaaS, if Microsoft does it right. I have heard that Microsoft claims that they will have a tight (and short) update cycle. I think that’s very ambitious for a company that has been operating on 3+ years cycles, but let’s take their word for it.
Some people have wondered why there isn’t an “app store” for SharePoint. (There actually are a few, like the fine work that Dan MacPherson and his team have done on ShareVolution.) Let’s say that Microsoft starts to offer an app store with widgets (Web Parts, if you will). They could offer enhancements to those widgets regularly, just like Intuit does with my QuickBooks Online subscription. I don’t develop solutions on top of QuickBooks; they just keep handing them to me as part of my subscription. That’s why I stick with the online version rather than going backward to the desktop version: the product promises to get better and better.
Having a clear roadmap will be a key ingredient in the success of all of this. This will be another new experience for Microsoft. Can anyone tell me what the key plans are for SharePoint vNext? Not if you don’t work in a small set of buildings in Redmond, you can’t. Those update cycles will have to be pretty clearly laid out so that we can trust that we will get better and better capability and can plan for it rather than building it ourselves. Not only should admins be thinking about how Office365 is going to change their daily routine, but developers should, too. Let me assure you that the changes will be more than what causes you to complain loudly about the restrictions that sandboxed solutions put on your otherwise incredibly powerful development skills. It may well be that you need to become more attached to those – ugh, is he really going to say it – actual users to help them navigate the myriad options they get from the platform itself, rather than what you will build for them.
Hint: this has been going on for a long time, and you may have been choosing to ignore it. Users are out there happily sustaining themselves and solving their business problems without ever talking to a developer. Or, unfortunately, in spite of having talked to a developer and having been told “No, you can’t have that”, or “That will cost a bazillion dollars and won’t be ready until fiscal 2018.” The era of centrally managed applications continues to wane, as it has been for decades.
It’s the Effect, Not the Technology
Remember that the biggest upside of what SharePoint provides us its effect, not its technology. It’s helping to enable change around how we think about work and collaboration. It’s been a series of tectonic shifts – it hasn’t happened rapidly or at times even perceptibly. When I look back at the command and control management structures which were more predominant 10 or 15 years ago (which I never was very comfortable in – I’m just not a power guy), I see that technologies like SharePoint: eRoom Jive, Groove, and more currently, Google Apps, perhaps) have helped to drive some of the change . The technology didn’t do it per se, but the visionaries from the mid 90s are finally seeing some of what they wanted to happen back then in knowledge management’s heyday. We’re in the middle of long curve toward flatter, more empowered workforces in our knowledge economy.
In conclusion, I appreciated Steve’s post because it made me think about some of the same trends he was adding together; some of which I’ve seen adding together as well. As always, anytime there’s an almost militant response, I think about the provocation even more seriously. In this case, Steve may well be wrong in some of his thinking (whether there were signs for SharePoint at WPC doesn’t mean much, IMO), but I don’t believe that he can be entirely wrong. We’ll see some of the changes he predicts occur; what we will all have to wait and see about is how those changes will manifest and when.