February 18, 2010, 2:08 PM — An application that many users have never seen--Microsoft's SharePoint--plays a key role in Windows Phone 7 Series' Office Hub, the center of business activities in the new smartphone operating system.
On a phone with rich social networking features, adding business collaboration through SharePoint seems only natural, if not obvious. Microsoft, however, might not be alone in offering this capability.
SharePoint is a mature technology that Microsoft has invested in for more than a decade. It has, however, morphed over time and is variously promoted to both individual and enterprise customers.
SharePoint is offered as a standalone server, a Microsoft hosted service, and even as a limited free product, the Microsoft Office Live workspace. The SharePoint name has been associated with a variety of components over the years, leading to some confusion as to what its actually does and who is its intended customer.
Microsoft has sold more than a million licenses for SharePoint Server and considers the collaboration platform to be one of the fastest-growing products in its server portfolio, in terms of sales, according to Microsoft. (HP has recently updated records management software to provide back-up services for SharePoint files and workspaces.)
I find it easiest to think of SharePoint as a tool for creating intranets and extranets for businesses, workgroups, projects, or even single documents. These might include document management, calendar, to-do lists, member lists, and similar features. These shared workspaces are powerful ways for teams to work effectively together, especially on complex tasks.
SharePoint can also be used to create complex business portals, which gather information into dashboards for use by C-level decisionmakers. At the high end, SharePoint is a Lotus Notes competitor, and also powers complex document management systems.
Google, meanwhile, has recently been adding collaboration features to its Google Apps and Google Docs cloud-based applications suites.Neither comes close to matching the capabilities of SharePoint, but many users might not notice the difference in basic collaborative workspaces.