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Microsoft Plays Its Strongest Office 2010 Card: SharePoint

Microsoft Plays Its Strongest Office 2010 Card: SharePoint

With Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 launching this week and Exchange 2010 hitting general availability on November 9, you may think I'd be a bit preoccupied. OK, well, there's actually some truth to that. But Microsoft is launching some other important software in the weeks and months ahead, and in my mind, this coming generation of platforms isn't complete without it. I'm referring of course to Office 2010, which doesn't include just new versions of the age-old desktop software, but also web versions of some of those applications and a major new revision to SharePoint.

I've written a bit about the Office 2010 desktop and web software in the past, but if I can sum up my feelings about the most recent pre-release version, this summer's Technical Preview, it's one of ambivalence. On the desktop, Microsoft is finally providing the lauded ribbon user interface to all Office applications, not just a hand-picked selection. But aside from Outlook, which is getting a fairly major update this time around, the other applications are seeing mostly minor, evolutionary changes only. On the web, the Office Web Applications are somewhat disappointing right now: They're being positioned solely as add-ons to the traditional desktop apps, and not as full-fledged ("first class" in Microsoft parlance) standalone solutions of their own.

The one bit of new news is that Microsoft revealed this week that a public beta of Office 2010 will hit sometime in November. I believe this refers only to the traditional desktop applications and not the Office Web Applications, but it should still prove interesting, especially if Microsoft extends the functionality we saw with the Tech Preview.

The big news this week, however, is SharePoint. Months ago, when Microsoft contacted me about the Office 2010 Tech Preview, it had only vague information to share about SharePoint 2010. But this week, at the SharePoint Conference 2009, it revealed a feature-complete version of the software that, too, will enter public beta next month. As Microsoft promised, it is a major release.

For the 3 or 4 readers who are unfamiliar, SharePoint is Microsoft's content and document management, enterprise search, and collaboration server suite. The key to SharePoint, I think--and this is something we're starting to see more of in other Microsoft products--is that it provides an environment in which the users can actually create and manage their own collaborative web sites. In the past, trying to set up an FTP site, file share, or other dumb dumping ground for shared files required administrative oversight, slowing down the process and pulling admins away from more critical work. It's all about power to the people, without any of the usual security concerns.

For SharePoint 2010, Microsoft is extending this popular platform in several key ways. From a user experience consistency standpoint, it's picking up the ribbon UI, of course, and a new one-click layout functionality. It's providing integration pieces for key new Office 2010 app technology like BackStage. And looking ahead to the ways in which SharePoint 2010 will be used in the real world, SharePoint 2010 will also come in two versions aimed at Internet-facing sites, one for on-premises servers and one for hosted versions.

I'm hoping to get my hands on the SharePoint 2010 Beta soon, so I should have more to say about it in the near future. But in the meantime, be sure to check out Microsoft's virtual conference site, where you can view the keynotes and other content from the show, right from your web browser. Also, be sure to check out SharePoint 2010 Revealed, by Dan Holme.

An edited version of this article appeared in the October 20, 2009 issue of Windows IT Pro UPDATE. --Paul

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