Cracking Open the SharePoint Fortress


If you wanted proof of the continuing ability of Microsoft to find new ways of gaining/retaining control of enterprise software markets, look no further than SharePoint. It's a nebulous product, as the Wikipedia encapsulation makes plain:

Microsoft SharePoint, also known as Microsoft SharePoint Products and Technologies, is a collection of products and software elements that includes, among a growing selection of components, web browser based collaboration functions, process management modules, search modules and a document-management platform.

SharePoint can be used to host web sites that access shared workspaces, information stores and documents, as well as host defined applications such as wikis and blogs. All users can manipulate proprietary controls called "web parts" or interact with pieces of content such as lists and document libraries.

Despite – or maybe even because of – that nebulousness, SharePoint is a brilliant success, for a couple of reasons. In a way, it's Microsoft's answer to GNU/Linux: cheap and simple enough for departments to install without needing to ask permission, it has proliferated almost unnoticed through enterprises to such an extent that last year SharePoint Sales were $1.3 billion.

But as well as being one of Microsoft's few new billion-dollar hits, it has one other key characteristic, hinted at in the Wikipedia entry above: it offers an effortless way for people to put content in to the system, but makes it very hard to get it out because of its proprietary lock-in.

This makes it a very real threat to open source. For example, all of the gains made in the field of open document standards – notably with ODF – are nullified if a company's content is trapped inside SharePoint.

Against that background, the following news is important:

Google's new [Sites] API can, among other things, move files from Microsoft SharePoint and Lotus Notes to Google Sites collaborative content development tool.

Signaling an intent to compete with giants in the collaboration software space, Google unveiled an API to extend the Google Sites collaborative content development tool, featuring a capability to migrate files from workspace applications such as Microsoft SharePoint and Lotus Notes to Sites.

One application already built using the Google Sites API is SharePoint Move for Google Apps, developed by LTech for migrating data and content from SharePoint to Sites. Google Sites is a free application for building and sharing websites; it is described by Google as a collaborative content creation tool to upload file attachments, information other Google applications such as Google Docs, and free-form content.

Assuming that I've not missed something here, this new Google Sites API seems pretty big to me: it offers a Get Out of Jail Free card to businesses that would otherwise find some of their content locked away in SharePoint. And once that data is liberated, there are plenty of open enterprise content management solutions out there that would be glad to accommodate it – without the lock-in, of course.

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