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Gartner: Microsoft's SharePoint Plans Could Lead to Product Split

Research firm Gartner advised organizations to prepare for fundamental changes to SharePoint stemming from Microsoft's product development efforts on the cloud side.

While SharePoint is widely deployed, few are particularly attached to it, according to Jeffrey Mann, research vice president at Gartner. "SharePoint does not excel in any particular area when compared with best-of-breed, single-purpose products," Mann said in a released statement. "Instead, it provides 'good enough' features across a variety of integrated capabilities."

Mann provided that view as part his "Should Microsoft Kill SharePoint?" on Thursday at Gartner's ITxpo event in Orlando, Fla. His answer to that question was "No," although he urged Microsoft to tell its customers that the online and on-premises versions of the product were diverging. The talk was part of Gartner's "Maverick" project, which provides analysis that is designed to be "intentionally disruptive and edgy to help IT leaders get ahead of the mainstream," according to Gartner's description.

SharePoint's evolution faces some obstacles, according to Mann. It faces a potential product split with SharePoint Online moving in one direction while on-premises SharePoint Server could take another route. He noted that Microsoft's acquisition of Yammer and its explanation that SharePoint customers should opt for Yammer for enterprise social networking capabilities is contributing to the product split, as well as sowing confusion among some SharePoint customers.

For instance, Microsoft recommends using Yammer streams instead of SharePoint newsfeeds. However, if organizations want to follow documents, that capability is currently supported by SharePoint 2013 but not by Yammer's activity streams, Mann noted. Microsoft has offered little guidance so far on such details, he added.

"Organizations must decide whether to use Yammer or SharePoint for groups, discussions, Q&A, blogs, wikis and file storage," Mann said. "Without guidance, users are unsure which way to go to avoid future difficulties."

Customer scenarios are such that organizations can't always adopt the cloud services model of SharePoint or they may have trouble keeping pace with new SharePoint software releases. For instance, IT organizations have tended to be reluctant to upgrade SharePoint Server because of the potential disruption and expense entailed. Mann noted that "this is a move Microsoft is trying to address with the app model introduced in SharePoint 2013."

In addition, many organizations have compliance restrictions that preclude using cloud services, including SharePoint Online and Yammer, or they don't trust using cloud services. Those customers likely will stick with SharePoint Server, even as Yammer carves out new functionality for online users. Yammer is a hosted product only at this point.

"Given how Microsoft is shifting focus to the cloud, and with differences emerging between SharePoint Online and SharePoint Server, it will become increasingly difficult to consider them the same product, especially as Microsoft integrates SharePoint Online ever more closely with Yammer, Lync Online and Exchange Online," Mann said.

Organizations should not panic as it will take "several years" for this presumed SharePoint product divergence to take effect, according to Mann. "However, it is not too early to start planning for a post-SharePoint world," he advised.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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