03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Microsoft SharePoint Conference -- Day 1

Today was the opening of the SharePoint Conference and it was kicked off with a keynote speech by Steve Ballmer. The message that came through loud and clear – Microsoft is back baby and it’s loaded for bear. They’ve got Google, Oracle, & IBM squarely in their sights and those three may not even see them coming (yet).

Total World Domination

Back in the early 90s Microsoft was on top of the world, they had destroyed OS/2, Office was taking over the desktop, and they were diving heavily into finance, online, and games. And then they got hit with three hard punches, one after the other. First the DOJ anti-trust lawsuit, then the Internet (Microsoft was late to that party), and then Google. Microsoft retained its dominance on the desktop and made progress elsewhere. But its heyday of taking over new market segment after new market segment appeared to be over. It was no longer the cool place to work and it was clearly off its game. (With that said, Microsoft off its game was still a formidable competitor.)

The old Microsoft is back, at least in the SharePoint group. From Steve Ballmer down to the product members presenting – they see the gigantic potential they have with SharePoint and they are out to have it take over the world. This excitement and energy on the part of the people at Microsoft responsible is what has been a key component each time that has dominated its market.

Ok, so Microsoft is on the road to success. But success at what?

I think SharePoint is Microsoft’s means to dominating the web “desktop.” Microsoft has always gone for the foundation software in each key market (i.e. Windows and then Office on the desktop, XBox for gaming, etc.). The only market that matters today (and tomorrow) is the web, the cloud, the net. We’ve all figured that the web is this amorphous thing where companies would all have pieces but open standards and the diffuse nature of the net would preclude one company owning the base system. Think again. With SharePoint Microsoft has invented a foundation for the entire system. And they will use it to try to gain dominance of the web.

Look at what SharePoint provides. It’s a holistic, integrated, comprehensive platform that provides an amazing system for companies to build their intranets and websites on. In addition, Office is an integral piece of this system - both the web and desktop version. Data is linked from Sql Server through SharePoint to Office – and then edited and pushed back down. Clients can go offline with cached data and then back online again. Collaborative work including support for multiple people editing documents at the same time is beautifully implemented. And finally, they see this as providing a system that brings this to the user across their computer, cell phone, TV, etc.

What does this do to the other major players? Oracle & IBM’s main products are Weblogic/Websphere & Oracle/DB2. These combinations aren’t even in the same category as SharePoint. As this difference becomes more apparent, company after company will switch to SharePoint – because even if they can afford the increased cost of using Weblogic or Websphere, they will not be willing to accept the tremendous functional difference.

Then there’s Google. This will be a gigantic blow to Google apps. The SharePoint/Office combination is worlds beyond Google Apps. And search will become an interesting question. With the SharePoint stack you can do things with search that cannot be done in the present environment. I would not bet against Google on search. But Google should be very very worried.

The Keynote

We started off with Tom Rizzo amid a rock concert presentation. Flashing lights, loud music, big warm up speech. Along with 240 talks & 45 hours of hands-on sessions, there are also 2 weddings taking place during the conference among attendees (talk about dedicated SharePoint developers). And we got the claim that tomorrow night’s beach party will be the biggest ever at the Mandalay Bay (apparently they can see into the future). He also said the conference “has attendees from 70 countries from Hawaii to…” (maybe he’s a Republican).

Then Steve Ballmer came out. He was charged up and selling it. He discussed how SharePoint will merge the computer, phone, TV, and more – that it will become the center of the cloud. He made it very clear – Microsoft is aiming SharePoint to become the cloud. He then discussed the SharePoint client in Office 2010 and how this makes Office a part of SharePoint. This will all be available as a public beta this November and will release middle of next year.

Back to Tom where we got a long detailed demo of feature after feature. I saw people cheering some, saying “thank god” on others, and throughout they were on the edge of their seats watching. In 2010 we get external lists. Round tripping of data from Sql Server to SharePoint to Office – and back. Visual Studio supports visual web parts (coding will be sooo much easier) and it is fully integrated with SharePoint including being able to fully build and deploy webparts. A developer dashboard giving a detailed view of a webpart including time spent in events, DB calls, and more. Finally the sandbox is awesome – no more having one webpart bring the system to a crawl.

Back to Steve where he talked about SharePoint Online. This is Microsoft’s hosting service where your SharePoint apps go up on their service where they then provide your system, be it for some of your external and/or internal websites – or all of them. He is pushing this hard. Clearly Microsoft is hoping to become the backend IT department for companies. It’s a profitable venture – and it locks those customers in to SharePoint. Steve claims SharePoint Online has over 1 million customers but a good chunk of those may be people like my company where we’re set up to test it – but we’re not using it.

Steve also put in yet another plug for companies to use SharePoint for internet (customer facing) sites. Clearly the main use to date has been intranets and they want the internet market too. This included showing some very cool websites including Hawaiian Airlines (which apparently is outside the U.S.).

Back to Tom who took us through the web designer, including how you can easily set styles and layouts and for a company then easily have a consistent look across multiple sites. He showed how Volvo has the same look across 70 country sites (very impressive). Lots of web parts (the building blocks of SharePoint) including bringing in a blog, movie player, and a very interesting search engine. It also provides an intelligent spell check and link checker on check in. (This is going to hurt DreamWeaver sales – a lot.)

Steve & Tom then took questions. Detailed questions and in each case they replied with detailed answers. (This is part of why Microsoft does so well with developers – they talk with us and give us real answers.) Most interesting to me – the time Steve put in to this keynote including the long Q&A.

And More

Next we got Jeff Teper. Jeff must be a marketing guy because we got a lot of smoke & mirrors. I don’t think he was trying to B.S. us on anything; it’s just that after getting details and being shown how SharePoint accomplishes a lot of its features, getting it high level is a bit of a letdown. But still, what he showed us – wow.

First was an interesting piece of history. He showed us the PPT slide from his first presentation on SharePoint to BillG 10 years ago. It discussed creating an integrated, out-of-box, office integrated, flexible deployment system. That still fits what it is. This 10 years of development and product releases is a significant part of why SharePoint is now such a compelling product.

Jeff is the one who made it very clear that Microsoft now views Office as now being a component of SharePoint. He also showed us some very interesting functionality on social meta-tagging. I’m going to watch this part of the speech again because I think we’re going to see some very interesting uses out of this – but I don’t think anyone knows exactly what this will be – yet.

Next was one of the most mind-blowing things I have seen at a keynote. He brought up Excel and zoomed in on the number of rows. Over 100 million. To repeat, he showed us Excel handling 100,000,000 rows of data. He then pulled up a pivot table, entered a filter, and it reduced to “just” 3 million rows – in under a second. This is a revolutionary increase in the data analysis that Excel can perform.

He closed out showing us the website editor which supports in place editing by using the web version of Word. Pretty cool. Especially when done in the browser on a cell phone. He said you can do this on the “fruit named cell phone” too :)

What does it all mean?

So what does this all mean to you? It depends on who you are. For me, my company makes a superb SharePoint based reporting and document generation AddOn. We spent the first day scared that Microsoft would announce a feature that equaled or surpassed us. They didn’t so we were able to breathe easy – at least till the next version. At the same time, a change like this provides tremendous opportunity to companies like ours that fill in holes in the SharePoint offering. So for companies like ours, SharePoint is a tremendous opportunity. But I also saw new features that spell the end for several small companies. And potentially a major blow to some very large companies. So in the IT world, good news for some, bad news for others.

But for companies that do not write or host software – SharePoint is a boatload of good news. SharePoint will let you do a lot more, do it quicker, and do it with fewer people. 10 years from now when we look back we will see that this was a transformative moment in the Internet. Of course by then, we’ll be in the midst of the next transformative moment.

Ps – For a thumbnail of each conference session – please go to Windward Wrocks.