Back To School

Normally I avoid writing about closed source software in this blog simply because I do not want to advocate commercial products without getting payed. I also do not like express negative opinions on specific products, when I do it’s mostly to illustrate a more general phenomenon like e.g. NoSQL (this morning I read a great post on the word NoSQL).
I do not bear any grudge against closed source, I respect both copyright and patent, I would love to own a successful closed source product myself but that’s another story.
In this blog I focus on my own professional life and  this week I attended a four day MS SharePoint introduction course, and that is what this post is about.

SharePoint introduction

Four days for a key user introductory course may sound overkill. But on the contrary, if anything it was a day to little, MS SharePoint is loaded with functionality, it is a full fledged web development platform for a lot of types of web apps. I thought it was some kind of document system but it is a hell lot more than that. The Learning Tree course was given in a brisk pace. The teacher never gave me a chance to do what I do the most attending IT classes, sleep. I do not like IT courses, I normally find them slow, boring with dull exercises which I never complete successfully. This time however I stayed alert most of the time, however I still failed most of the exercises. I really tried the patience of the teacher, he gave me unlimited time ‘Lars stay after we finish today, we can work it through together’. With a ‘little’ bit of help, in end I got all exercises stitched together. I am by no means a key user of MS Sharepoint, no one is after a four day course, but it gives you an understanding of what the product can do, and sufficient knowledge to start work in SharePoint. You need at least an additional three months of hard work to qualify as a key user.

SharePoint reminds me a lot of mindtouch an open source product I installed at the Company during my vacation 2008. At that time those I showed it for didn’t get the idea, they could not see a need for it and ‘we will soon install Quickr’. With all respect Quickr (at least at that time) was a different piece of software. Anyway I worked with mindtouch enough to understand what this kind of collaboration software is, (and I have opinions how it should  be used). A few first impressions of SharePoint:  

The good

The integration with office and mail (an absolute must for collaboration software) is top class. As a user and developer you work seamlessly with MS Office and MS outlook.

The GUI is consistent and intuitive and lends heavily from MS Office, which makes it familiar right from start.

Lists (a cornerstone in SharePoint) are great and easy to work with.

The implementation of workflows looks decent. Workflows are very complex a decent implementation is good. (I managed the workflows exercises without help). But to judge workflows you really need to work with them and see how they interact with humans and other software in your environment.

The bad

The GUI was cluttered with a zillion of options, I had severe problems finding the options I wanted, most of my failures was due to not finding the configuring option I was looking for.

Web development looked mezzy to me. Any app beyond the very simple was very hard to realize. Expressing apps by configuring options (which you do in SharePoint) is tedious and cumbersome. This is because creating a complex app is complex. There are good reasons for programing languages, good ones can express logic and actions succinct and unambiguous with a limited set of operations.
I do not think no-programming applications development is the right way to go. I rather see a revival of my beloved Mims 4GL, where you tell the computer what you want in coherent and super condensed code, that together with a WYSIWYG screen editor.

The fear

I see an upcoming clash between titans in the collaborative software arena at the Company, SAP and Microsoft. SAP are working their butts off to launch collaborative tools. A product company having their business in the SAP ERP system is likely to favor SAP for collaboration, since most information they use is already in there. On the other hand SharePoint may fill ‘the holes’ and act like glue between ERP and other software. On the other hand again SAP is doing it’s best to fill ‘the holes’ and act like glue between themselves and other software. Anyway it turns out, these alternatives are a big vendor lock ins, these collaboration packages comes bundled or connected with all the products the Vendor can possibly throw in. Once in exit will be excruciatingly painful.

The epilogue

Will I recommend SharePoint to a friend? I do not know yet. It is a well designed quality product that’s for sure. During the course we did not encounter unlogic behavior or bugs, it’s darn good having twenty newbies hammering wildly for four days not showing any erratic behavior.

What I happily can recommend is both the introductory course and the teacher.

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