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Microsoft SharePoint Conference -- Day Zero

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Microsoft started their annual SharePoint Conference today.
(Or sort-of started it – all that went on today was free dinner and the exhibit
hall open for 3 hours. So the show really starts tomorrow.)

So what is SharePoint and why should you care? Factual
boring answer -- SharePoint is a portal and workflow framework product. It gives
companies a place to put all of their content and control it. Equally
important, it also provides a framework for other products to be part of this
system. Just as the power of Windows is all of the applications written for it,
the power of SharePoint is all of the AddOns written for it.

General interesting answer -- SharePoint is the fastest
selling product in the history of Microsoft. This has Microsoft focusing a lot
of its attention on SharePoint. And it shows how it has the potential to be as
important as Windows –as the base framework on the server side. This will give
Microsoft a dominant position on the server (compared to Oracle, IBM, &
SUN).

So on to tonight. My company has a booth at the show and boy did we
luck out on location. We got the booth two weeks ago (and the prep in just two
weeks is a very interesting story). So the exhibit hall opens and… In pour the
men. Yes, it’s technical, it’s software, and it’s 99% male. We’re talking geek
central. And they’re excited. The energy & interest among the attendees was
gigantic.

What hit me is I haven’t seen this since the early 90’s when
there was heavy competition between Microsoft and other companies for
applications, programming languages, etc. Once Microsoft rolled all that up and
had a complete monopoly on the desktop, all of this went away. And the high
tech community was poorer for it. While the advent of Java, Linux, and Google
has meant competition for Microsoft, it has not been evident in trade shows
because the shows tended to be for a single well-defined  market segment.

But baby, the excitement is back. I talked to lots of people
tonight and they are all looking at what SharePoint can be, and where they can
take it. Developers see this as a new set of toys they can play with and craft
cool things from. Lots of interest, lots of curiosity, lots of potential. No
one knows where this will go, and many are putting in a lot of effort with
their ideas. We are going to see a lot of innovative products appear in this
space.

Traffic in the exhibit hall was moderate. Most attendees
were not there tonight, many arrive tomorrow, and many here today did not go.
But for the ones that were there, the first hour they were mostly eating and
collecting freebies from the booths that had them. The food was pretty good
(Microsoft definitely knows how to run a conference) and the first 3 drinks
were free. So you had a very happy set of attendees.

And for the remaining 2 hours, we were slammed. These were
not attendees asking out of idle curiosity or to kill time. People were talking
to us to see if we could solve the problems they face. (Much of the time we
could and the remaining cases we could generally tell them who to go talk to.)
The beauty of a new platform is people need to bring in new solutions, even if
for the same old problems. And this means opportunity for small companies as
there is no established player with a dominant market share. You are going to
see new software companies appear and grow in this market (hopefully Windward will
be one of them).

So there you have it. If I was Oracle or IBM I would be very
worried because Microsoft’s most powerful weapon has always been when it
properly supports the independent software developer community. That’s what we
have here. And SharePoint could easily end up controlling the server just as Windows
does the desktop. If that occurs Microsoft will take over a significant chunk
of Oracle’s and IBM’s business.

Ps – Microsoft, what’s with the “laptop bags” you gave
everyone? There’s inexpensive, there’s cheap, and then there’s “a plastic
grocery bag would have been better.” Very weird choice.

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