SharePoint: The Second Coming Of Lotus Notes?

As I was pondering the suckage of Lotus Notes, I came across an interesting little piece on a CMS Watch Report titled: “SharePoint Has Become the New Lotus Notes“:

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 is repeating history as it mimics the allure and pitfalls of Lotus Notes, according to research released by CMS Watch, an independent analyst firm that evaluates content technologies.

SharePoint exploits traditionally underserved collaboration needs for information workers laboring within Office tools, and fulfills a common desire to easily create disposable workspaces, CMS Watch found.

Like Notes in a previous decade, IT often embraces SharePoint as a simple answer to myriad business information problems. But the platform can morph into a technical and operational morass, as repositories proliferate, and IT comes to recognize that various custom applications require highly specialized expertise to keep running properly.

The SharePoint Report 2008 concludes by advising customers to establish clear boundaries on SharePoint services, to keep it from becoming their new Notes – the platform that everyone loved, but then loved to avoid.

While SharePoint does indeed have it’s weaknesses (total lack of any integration with ASP.NET AJAX in the SharePoint implementation itself — guess we’ll just have to wait for 4.0, web services support is still kind of weak) and oddities (CAML?), it’s nowhere near the steaming pile that is Lotus Notes.

On a serious note, I do kind of see the point in that last paragraph there.  SharePoint often gets evangelized as some silver bullet for collaboration (“Oh look, workspaces! Workflows! Tasks lists!”) but I’ve never been in an organization that’s used SharePoint in a way that was actually of any aid to productivity or collaboration; people just don’t seem to want to log onto a corporate SharePoint portal unless they have to.

That’s not to say that the platform doesn’t have its useful bits, but the real gem in SharePoint is its integration with Office applications as a platform for “seamless” sharing of documents and I think the idea of offering that to a much larger audience (via Office Live Workspaces) is long overdue from Microsoft.  Until recently, there were few integrated solutions for small businesses, students, and other non-business groups for the very simple act of sharing Office documents aside from using e-mail.

Even when I joined Zorch Software, I would do a facepalm regularly when I got an email with a document attached with a “v15” suffix.  I’d save it in the same folder as the previous 14 “versions” that I received.  The irony.  The problem is that most of SharePoint just isn’t that useful.  Even in a tech minded organization like Zorch Software, you just can’t break some people out of old habits; to many, collaboration is synonymous with e-mail.  There is a whole generation that doesn’t get wikis and doesn’t want to learn wiki markup.

Well, in any case, I’m still not over the fact that I’m being forced to use Lotus against my will and I’m still bitter over the fact that it’s been so hard to get people to embrace our Trac wiki and embrace the ticket system for tracking issues.

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2 Responses

  1. Tony Lee says:

    I’m not saying you’re wrong, but…. the irony… of your angst having to use Lotus Notes and the angst of your users having to use your Trac wiki system…

  2. Chuck says:

    I can only vaguely see the irony.

    The truth of the matter is it’s one thing to expect your every day Joe Cubicle business information user to pick up wiki and use a collaboration platform. It’s another to expect your development team of techies, engineers, and programmers (and project managers) to use a ticket system for issue tracking (the wiki portion of it is really just a subsystem and optional) on a software development project.

    Trac is infinitely better at software project management than Lotus 6.5 is as an email client. I don’t see anything inherently broken about the Trac UI or anything inherently confoundng about it either.

    As with any software, I can readily admit the weaknesses of Trac as well. Out of the box, it lacks a lot in terms of management of the system. It still doesn’t integrate well in terms of managing users. It doesn’t expose (as far as I know) any sort of web services for integration with external systems. And so on and so forth. But if there’s on thing that I do know, it’s easy and painless to use.