If this hasn’t come through in my blog, I have a sincere respect for Microsoft. I particularly appreciate what it has done with SharePoint. Microsoft has grown a lightweight collaboration portal into $800 million in revenue in just a few short years. It is the fastest-growing product in Microsoft’s history.

Microsoft being Microsoft, it is sharing the wealth with its partner ecosystem. Yes, Microsoft routinely runs roughshod over its partners but, to be fair, it’s hard for a company that size to do much of anything without squashing partners in the process. But in the case of SharePoint, partners will help to drive SharePoint into all sizes of enterprises and into all kinds of applications, according to an article on CMP Channel.

This is where things get interesting, because what’s good for Microsoft and its partners is not necessarily good for Microsoft’s customers.

“SharePoint is growing rapidly because it’s the first product from Microsoft that really is a universal framework,” said Ken Winell, senior vice president at Pcubed, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based (Microsoft) Gold partner. “SharePoint is as substantial a product as the Web browser, because of the way you can integrate other platforms tightly into it.”

SharePoint’s versatility benefits partners by allowing them to easily add other Microsoft products to SharePoint deals, such as Dynamics, Enterprise Project Management or Project Portfolio Server, said Winell.

“The smart partners understand the powerful pull-through that SharePoint has, and the fact that many customers aren’t just looking for a portal, but an overall compliance solution. SharePoint has all the elements that break the bonds of a singular product,” said Winell.

Indeed. That’s the point. Steve Ballmer calls it the the next big “operating system from Microsoft. It is designed to bind enterprise customers to Microsoft’s processes, just as Microsoft is starting to lose its grasp on file format lock-in. Microsoft could give away its file format lock-in if it can just get content into its proprietary repository (i.e., SharePoint). At that point, it won’t matter whether the files are JPEG, Open Document Format or PDF–Microsoft will own that content and, hence, the customer’s future.

SharePoint is the future of lock-in, and Microsoft is doing everything it can to enable its partners to bind companies with it.

If you compete with Microsoft (and who doesn’t?), you are a fool to believe you can do so effectively without answering the SharePoint question. Ultimately, it’s a question of content: who owns and controls it? If you don’t have an answer to SharePoint in your product arsenal, I guarantee that Microsoft, not you, will own your customers. They might be your database customer today, Oracle, but SharePoint requires SQL Server. And IIS. And Microsoft Office. And…you get the picture.

On this note, a friend wrote me the other day to say…

Anyway, I wanted to comment that what I’ve read about your views on SharePoint and lock-in ring very true. To me, MS (Microsoft) has no interest in XML or the Semantic Web. They don’t seem to be making any effort to make Web sites easier to implement. In fact, I think that JavaScript-based pages and MS Web Publisher are actually designed to keep the masses from taking control of their data. MS is locking the users in again and they don’t understand the implications.

Open-source and open-standard content/collaboration platforms like Alfresco and Magnolia put that control where it belongs: with the customer. (Day Software, which uses an open-standard repository, is also a viable choice.)

But one way or another, proprietary and open-source companies need an answer to SharePoint. Small wonder, then, that Oracle has been building out its content management capabilities, as have IBM and others. Content is the center of the enterprise ecosystem, when all is said and done. SharePoint is Microsoft’s answer for controlling the next decade of IT.

What’s yours?

Disclaimer: I work for Alfresco, a company that provides an open-source alternative to SharePoint.

Posted By Matt Asay