Trying to write a blogpost about the SharePoint 2010 announcements today here in Las Vegas is like trying to summarize Microsoft in a few paragraphs. SharePoint, the fastest growing product in the company's history, is also arguably the heir to the post billg empire. As foundational to the future of Microsoft as Windows, SharePoint is essentially a business processes 'operating system' that will work on or offline and aims to underpin all aspects of future business.
We're talking here about a 64 bit system that will realistically be a buyable product around this time next year, after a beta roll out starting next month. (Office 2010, the venerable suite of desktop productivity tools, will be 32 or 64 bit. As Microsoft manager Kirk J Koenigsbauer discusses in the video above, hardware costs are so negligible these days that stepping up to the additional horsepower a 64 bit architecture gives the best bang for the buck.
Some initial impressions after this morning's all encompassing laundry list keynotes, delivered by Steve Balmer, Jeff Teper and others in front of slowly spinning animated abstract spiders webs (I couldn't help making the visual analogy of being drawn into the 'magical unified infrastructure', as Balmer described 2010).
For those of us with long memories, Microsoft announcing new products that work with REST in any browser point to a refreshingly open future. Cynics would say the 2010 generation of Microsoft products is the mother of all Frankensuites, with which you can create even vaster arrays of shared drives, and that once you've entered the .net walled garden you'll never escape.
In fairness though, Microsoft are like all heavy hitters in the enterprise space. They have a huge customer base running on their products and committed to continue doing so, with all sorts of legacy issues and agreements in place to honor. Plenty of huge companies literally run on SharePoint in multiple languages internationally. Rolling out new products after listening to those customers needs may not appeal to the sensibilities of the Web 2.0 afficionados, but you can't argue with the sheer scale of either this release or this conference.
Microsoft are rolling out SharePoint 2010 internally from a pilot of 5000 employees to all 100,000 this month and will release public betas next month. Like so many big tech companies, Microsoft's DNA is baked into their concepts around collaboration, which are realized in their technologies. Like IBM's Lotus Suite and Google's competitive enterprise offerings, the reality is that customers are implicitly buying the ways these companies work internally for their enterprises.
The large partner universe around Microsoft - more on this soon - dilute some of this KoolAid, but only if end users chose to broaden their horizons. Against this there is strong evidence of much slicker interoperability between components across Microsoft products: cutting and pasting copy from Word into Sharepoint site designer and other seamless integration shows promise for the future.
The video above covers Groove, which shows such promise. My gut feeling is that Microsoft are really getting their act back together after the Vista fiasco and that this next generation of products, even if they do collectively feel like one of those holiday gift baskets of everything, are going to be a dominant force in international business collaboration.
There is plenty of room for complimentary technologies - and the connectors to hook them in - but once this next generation SharePoint supertanker sets sail it's going to sit low in the water and won't be getting out of anyone's way. Agility by smaller players in the space combined with pathfinder agility will be needed to stay in the game.
There was a telling moment at the end of Balmer's presentation though - after demoing Microsoft's end to end business collaboration solutions he encouraged the audience to send him feedback....by email. Why hadn't Microsoft set up a collaborative instance of SharePoint to capture,share and compare feedback?