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Today was the first day of the SharePoint conference in Bellvue, WA. Certainly the highlight of the day was a keynote by none other than Bill Gates. I’ve heard Mr. Gates speak any number of times, usually on very futuristic and visionary topics. This time was unique for me because he spoke on a topic I know well – and I was very impressed by his insights.
He said that the focus of Office 2007 is bridging the barrier between structured and unstructured information. Just as the Office client applications integrate functions such as word processing and spreadsheets, SharePoint integrates previously separate islands: search, document management, web management, business intelligence and more. He’s right – all these islands are available separately from different vendors, and I think the SharePoint team has done a great job bringing them into an integrated whole.
He also discussed SharePoint as a platform for developers. Line of business applications can inherit SharePoint’s features by developing on top of the SharePoint API’s. The result is not only reduced development costs (compared with re-implementing parts of SharePoint) – it also results in more consistent, easier to use applications for end users. This is something I’ve done a lot of at the MTC, integrating everything from risk management to property management onto the platform where SharePoint can handle the unstructured data in the context of a line of business application.
Another boundary Bill discussed is the boundary with partners and customers. The new version of SharePoint provides a single infrastructure for Internet, intranet and extranet applications.
Bill listed his Top 5 favorite parts of SharePoint, which I report here with explanations in my own words:
5. Community (Wikis, Blogs, RSS): These technologies leverage peoples’ ideas and help them to realize their potential. In SharePoint 2007, everything from a page or document library to search results can be an RSS feed. Blog and Wiki templates are available out of the box.
4. Excel Services: Why download a large spreadsheet and crunch numbers on a client PC, only to look at a chart or small result set? It makes more sense to run certain spreadsheets right on the server, and to display them as plain old HTML. Excel services provide exactly this. There are a lot of Excel gurus out there who are business and financial experts; now they can work with a familiar tool and share the fruits of their labor via a simple web interface.
3. Client Integration: The Office client integration in 2007 is better than ever. Bi-directional synchronization with Outlook, integrated metadata management, and direct access to document management features all add to the experience, and eliminate the need for users to bounce between client software and web sites to do routine information tasks.
2. Search and the Business Data Catalog: The SharePoint search engine is better than ever, with improved relevancy ranking, more flexible administration and the ability to search for people as well as data. But it really shines when combined with the new Business Data Catalog (BDC), which provides access to structured information in line of business applications. Already on our own intranet, we have a “customer” search feature, which can instantly locate customer information from our CRM system. The potential of Search and the BDC is to provide a single, simple way to locate any information, structured or unstructured, in an enterprise.
1. SharePoint for Composite Applications: SharePoint has been a great platform for a while now, but now with the BDC, improved connections to page context, and deeper .NET integration, it’s better than ever. The ability to surround structured application data with contextually relevant unstructured SharePoint content is extremely powerful.
In addition to Mr. Gates’ keynote, a number of other great sessions were offered. I enjoyed sessions on Web Content Management and Search. Web Content Management is especially relevant to me, since I’ve done a lot of work in this area, and will be co-presenting the topic at the upcoming TechEd conference in Boston.
Watch this space for more information on the SharePoint conference!
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