Recently, a white paper caught my eye, perhaps because it was entitled "Google and Microsoft: Living Together in Harmony." I thought that it could make for an interesting read because these two companies seem more like blood enemies every day, so the author was either intentionally being ironic or was delusional.
As it turns out, neither is the case. Well, not entirely. The paper was written by the founders of LimitNone, a company creating a suite of products for integrating Google Apps with Microsoft Office, thus (in their words) providing users the best of both worlds: the rich functionality of Microsoft's desktop applications with the ease of use, scalability, and collaboration capabilities of Google Apps.
OK, so the company is new and challenging the Microsoft hegemony/status quo on the desktop, so there are some really extreme/provocative statements in the business justification, e.g.:
- "No SMB in their right mind would willingly subject themselves to installing and maintaining their own SharePoint implementation"
- "For many SMBs and even larger enterprises, SharePoint is like wielding a chainsaw when a nail file will suffice."
- the contention that Office users won't give up Office because they are afraid to put their data on the Web
There is no shortage of hyperbole from this young (their blog started publishing in February 2007) company, and they are getting noticed by people such as ZDNet, so there is certainly interest in the business technology community in cheaper, simpler collaboration tools, like Basecamp or various wiki engines.
I have a couple of (minor) gripes with the white paper: it would be useful for the authors to have distinguished between Windows SharePoint Services (part of Windows Server 2003) and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (which is more costly and complex than WSS). It would also be interesting to observe that a recent Wall Street Journal article states that there are 85 million SharePoint users out there, across over 17,000 organizations. Are they all using SharePoint out of inertia and fear?
I've personally worked with companies as small as 25 people who are effectively using SharePoint to manage documents, collaborate on business issues, and manage document flow through structured workflows across their teams. That being said, I could see the LimitNone tools and approach having benefits for businesses whose needs center around:
1. ad hoc collaboration (rapidly formed and disbanded teams, quickly provisioned/decommissioned sites, etc.).
2. collaboration across organizational boundaries. Licensing challenges make this more difficult than it ought to be for SharePoint/Groove.
3. ultra-low overhead (although pricing is still somewhat unclear -- no info available on LimitNone's web site at press time)
So, if you're in a highly distributed organization with little or no IT admin staff and have the need for dynamic collaboration, especially across organizations, this approach might be worth a look if these are the extent of your needs.
Another point is simultaneously made and missed by the authors: SharePoint is more than a collaboration platform. LimitNone's white paper notes this in the context of Office: if you don't need all those additional features and overhead, why pay for them? For organizations that need to manage content (documents, records, web content), serve up business performance data to managers via interactive dashboards and/or scorecards, or use forms and workflow to automate business processes beyond the individual document level, the Office SharePoint Server value proposition gets better and better.
LimitNone and Google Apps certainly merit watching closely, especially as their products are introduced to the broader market, pricing strategies evolve and become clearer, and users make their preferences known in numbers. In the meantime, don't expect Microsoft to stand still: Collaboration is getting richer, simpler, and cheaper. Watch for SharePoint Live, FolderShare and Groove integration, and broad adoption of the SharePoint "sleeper" solution moving downmarket from the Enterprise space.