The lock-in battle shifts to Sharepoint

You can put together everything SharePoint does using open source projects, but it takes work.

The fight over being locked-in to Microsoft, which once focused on client applications like Office, is now shifting to servers and SharePoint.

On the surface SharePoint is merely a document management system which lets everyone in your company share and find Office documents easily. But critics like our own Matt Asay call it a Trojan Horse, which will bind companies which deploy it to Microsoft forever.

You can put together everything SharePoint does using open source projects, but it takes work. You can combine Alfresco (from the Electronic Content Management (ECM) software company Matt works for), the Liferay portal, JasperSoft for reporting, and Zimbra's e-mail server. Throw in some Jive forums and you're more than done.

But what does that cost, really, compared to just using something from Microsoft which already works with your current Office applications? Exactly.

Once companies start using SharePoint, Asay worries, there is no way for them to ever ditch Microsoft applications and file formats. SharePoint is tied to those formats, and as the share fills the cost of switching away rises exponentially.

The real problem is not, as Mary Jo Foley reports, Microsoft studies showing SharePoint is cheaper than open source alternatives. The problem is that very few companies are using ECM technology already. It's a compelling opportunity, and it's a totally green field.

Even if Alfresco could get together with its buddies to create a viable alternative, and even if that alternative were already in wide channel distribution, it would be the underdog against Microsoft's marketing power.

That's the problem. Until Microsoft entered the market ECM was going nowhere fast. Now it is going somewhere fast, but where it's going is being determined by Microsoft.

This sort of thing will continue to happen until open source projects learn how to collaborate better, how to combine their efforts to solve big problems, and how to expand their channels. That will take time.

Until then Microsoft will retain its enormous market advantage.