By Dan Holme
Office & SharePoint Pro
Report from the Microsoft MVP Summit 2008
Last week, I was lucky enough to attend the annual summit of Microsoft Most Valued Professionals (MVPs) in Seattle and Redmond. More than 1800 MVPs from more than 30 countries attended, including more than half of the 131 SharePoint MVPs from around the globe. This was the first summit I’ve been able to join, and what a fantastic experience it was. MVPs are individuals who, while not Microsoft employees, provide significant guidance, influence and support to Microsoft’s customers and communities. That means they’re a dynamic, experienced, opinionated, and vocal gang.
Each year Microsoft brings them together to share insight into Microsoft’s current and future products and to solicit feedback from the MVPs. SharePoint MVPs were visited by leaders from across the SharePoint product team, and we were given insight into the futures of Office 14 and beyond. The group also had a bang-up good time, shooting each other with more than 80,000 rounds of paint ball and consuming vast amounts of… social time… together. I was still fighting the cold I picked up while on the SharePoint Roadshow in NYC and Boston, so I was a lamer on the social side, but I found the week incredibly valuable. I learned so much from the product team, from productive meetings with my customers and partners on the Microsoft campus, and from my fellow MVPs whose expertise was downright awe-inspiring.
Office 14 is, as you probably know, the current name for the next version of the Office system, which includes the next version of SharePoint Server and the concurrent release of the next version of the Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) platform. Yes, that’s right, Microsoft is skipping Office 13. And yes, I’m sure the company won't release it with a lame name like Office 14. Office 200x will be so much more exciting a name .
I can’t tell you the specifics of what I saw (or I’d be shot with more than just paintballs), but I can tell you that what I saw was fantastic. SharePoint is today being called “The Operating System for Business Productivity” and I think there’s a lot of truth to that statement. Perhaps earlier versions of SharePoint were just applications. What we have now, and what we have moving forward, is the foundation of an entirely new platform and ecosystem that will have really significant impact on the way we do business for years to come. This product is, I think, the most dynamic and exciting thing coming out of Microsoft these days. The amount of innovation and growth in the product is staggering.
We looked at improvements to just about every SharePoint functional area--content deployment, search, portal, business process automation, business intelligence, collaboration--as well as administration and development. I really liked what I saw. It clearly illustrated that Microsoft is aware of the most significant challenges we face with the current version, and is tackling those head on. I saw at least two developments that I could put into use today in two separate clients for significant value.
Search: a Case Study of Innovation and Delivery
Last week I reviewed the success of SharePoint search, but I’m going to return to it for a moment. Talk about rapid innovation! We’re going to devour what they’ve got cookin’ in vNext. There’s no doubt that the investments that Microsoft is making in search to take on Google are paying off in a big way for enterprise search.
I had not stopped to consider that Search Server 2008 is really “version 2.0” of MOSS Search. That means that Search got a “new version” just 18 months after the release of the “first version” (MOSS). It introduced new capabilities and did a lot of back-end optimization. Microsoft will be releasing an update for MOSS to bring its functionality up to the same level later this year, and the upgrade will be seamless. SharePoint 14 will therefore be “version 3.0” of MOSS Search, will introduce important new capabilities, and the upgrade promises to be equally smooth (e.g., hopefully no rebuilding of indices). It’s this kind of rapid-release of incremental improvements to functionality that our community really needs.
The “wait 3 to 4 years then do a big painful migration” model that Microsoft puts us through on most of its products has got to change. What we’re getting from Search is exactly what the entire industry is searching for from a deployment and manageability perspective. And what I see as an analyst is a product making deliberate steps forward, rather than lurching and jumping forward like, say, the Windows client (Vista), which illustrates the risk of waiting too long then jumping. I hope the rest of Microsoft is paying attention to what the SharePoint Search team has achieved.
SharePoint Product TEAM Report Card
In the last few issues of To The SharePoint, I evaluated several of the SharePoint functional areas (collaboration and search) and provided the feedback I’ve received from customers, MVPs, and the community. I’ll return to that task and continue with other functional areas next week.
This week, I’d like to digress and talk about the SharePoint Product Team, and Lawrence Liu in particular. Lawrence’s title is a long one: Senior Technical Product Manager and Worldwide Community Lead. That means he not only has significant influence on the direction of the product itself, but is responsible for us--the community. At the summit, he corralled the product team and convinced them to “open the kimono” and show us what’s up with the future of SharePoint. I know from my discussions with other MVPs that the SharePoint product team was one of, if not the most, generous with their time and insight. I was also thoroughly impressed that most of the team seemed genuinely willing to listen to the MVPs as we shared our experiences with customers large and small, and our kudos and our concerns about their direction. For the 15 years that I’ve followed Microsoft, I’ve seen very few individuals, let alone entire teams, lend the kind of ear these folks did. It’s finally clear that this part of Microsoft does listen and hear what the community and its customers are saying.
While we MVPs aren’t able to divulge specifics of what’s in the SharePoint pipeline, we can now more easily provide guidance about your designs, implementations, and challenges; highlight best practices today that will likely put you in a good place for future versions of SharePoint; and direct the investment choices you make so that you are spending your SharePoint resources wisely today for likely success tomorrow. The product team gets an “A” (that’s a high grade here in the US) for what they did for us and, indirectly, what they are doing for the community through us.
Be a Part of the Future
Office 14 is in development, and Office 15 is on the distant horizon. Thanks to Lawrence and to Toby Richards, who is spearheading the effort to turn all of Microsoft into a “listening company,” the channels are open to your constructive thoughts and suggestions. At this point in the development lifecycle (of version 14), if there are significant problems with SharePoint (WSS and MOSS 2007) that are keeping your enterprise from adopting and deploying it, or major gaps in its ability to deliver what it promises, you should “escalate” your concerns to an MVP near you. Lawrence wants us to be the “funnel,” helping his team to gauge the scope and impact of problems and opportunities. And perhaps the most useful information you can provide is the scenario that you are trying to support, and the quantitative impact of the challenge you are addressing. Microsoft is a numbers company--numbers speak. So give us your feedback--Microsoft is open to it, although the company eventually does have to draw a line in the sand and release a “finished” version, since Microsoft doesn’t have the luxury of providing eternal betas as some of its competitors can.
Meet Me in Orlando
This week, a number of SharePoint MVPs are presenting at SharePoint Connections in Orlando. Tom Rizzo from Microsoft will be keynoting, too! Next week, I’ll be joined by several of my expert colleagues as we present SharePoint sessions at Windows & Exchange Connections, also in Orlando. If you attend, be sure to come up and say “hi.” Can’t wait to meet you!
Until next week, all the best!
danh at intelliem dot (top level commercial domain)