New SharePoint development model triggers hopes, questions

ISVs and enterprise developers ponder new opportunities created by a revamping of the SharePoint platform

By , IDG News Service |  Unified Communications

SharePoint's new application development model has piqued the interest of ISVs and enterprise developers who create applications for Microsoft's enterprise collaboration server.

The new platform, consistent with Web application standards, is designed to simplify and make more flexible and secure the creation and deployment of applications for the on-premise and cloud versions of SharePoint 2013, due in the first quarter next year.

For the existing 700,000 SharePoint developers, this represents a new world order that offers attractive opportunities but also raises concerns.

The new model lowers the bar for the skills and knowledge required to build SharePoint applications. In theory, anyone able to build a standard Web application is now a SharePoint developer. There is no longer a need to learn how to create specific client- or server-side SharePoint code.

Competition could thus become more heated for SharePoint ISVs, which cater to a huge market -- there are about 135 million SharePoint end users.

Along with the democratization of the platform, Microsoft is introducing an application store where commercial developers will be able to feature and, if they want, sell their software. The 2013 edition of the Office suite also uses this new app model and store.

For SharePoint, this represents a big change from the traditional enterprise software sales approach of building custom applications for customers or selling licenses for "shrink-wrapped" applications directly or via system integrator partners.

Quest, a SharePoint ISV recently acquired by Dell, is in a group of developers who have been working with Microsoft to build the first wave of SharePoint 2013 applications.

"We're pioneers putting flags in virgin territory here," said Chris McNulty, Quest's SharePoint general manager.

McNulty said he is excited about the new model, but that his company is trying to figure out which of its more than 20 SharePoint applications will be good fits for the new app store.

That's because it's not yet clear to him whether the store will be populated primarily by tools for individual employees, or by traditional enterprise-type applications, or both.

"It remains to be seen which applications will make sense," he said. "I'm not sure the app store will be the perfect home for every single thing we do."

At the recently concluded SharePoint Conference 2012 in Las Vegas, McNulty spoke with a number of fellow ISVs and heard a common theme. "No one wants to be the one vendor with a $15,000 application in an app store littered with $5 and $10 apps," he said.

Microsoft will not force developers to sell their SharePoint 2013 applications in the store. They can feature them in the store and include a link to their own Web storefront, for example, or simply market them independently.

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