SharePoint, which first shipped in 2001, is used primarily by enterprises to build websites -- intranets, public sites, forums, blogs, wikis -- as well as for storing, searching and managing documents, with the ultimate purpose of letting users interact and collaborate in various ways.
Although SharePoint has been a successful product -- it now generates about $2 billion in annual revenue -- it has been faulted by some for not being end user friendly and, in recent years, for lacking enterprise social networking (ESN) capabilities.
Microsoft's surprising decision to buy Yammer was seen as an acknowledgement of that last criticism. Yammer had been a leading independent ESN vendor, along with others like Jive Software and NewsGator. ESN software products offer users social media features popularized by companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter but adapted for a workplace setting and featuring controls for IT departments.
ESN software typically includes individual profiles, activity streams, status updates, microblogging, document sharing, online groups, discussion forums, content tagging, blogs and the like. It also offers the ability to integrate these social collaboration capabilities with third-party business applications, like CRM, ERP, unified communications and office productivity suites.
Fans of ESN software maintain that it can make traditional collaboration and business software more dynamic and effective, as well as more engaging for users. Microsoft had been adding native ESN functionality to SharePoint, and it had also worked closely with pure-play ESN vendors like NewsGator to add an ESN feature layer to SharePoint.
In these efforts, Microsoft isn't alone. Other large collaboration and business software vendors who have developed ESN products include IBM, Cisco Systems, Salesforce.com and SAP.
Microsoft has previously said that it envisions integrating Yammer not just with SharePoint but also with Office, Lync, Dynamics CRM and other products.
At the same time, Yammer has been putting a special effort on simplifying the way its software can be made into components and meshed with third-party business applications.
Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.