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SharePoint Online - Thoughts On PDC 2008 Talk

Okay so yesterday I got really excited about Microsoft Windows Azure, especially when SharePoint was one of five highlighted technologies that would be natively hosted in the cloud. These technologies are the "services" that make up, well, the could, and are Microsoft's bet that the current software development paradigm trend shift from SOA to services will really take off.

These services are:

  • .NET Services
  • SQL Services (renamed from SQL Data Services)
  • SharePoint Services
  • Live Services
  • Dynamics CRM Services

I haven't heard anything further about SharePoint Services, other than a use of it in a demo. This demo started with someone in Dynamics CRM creating a new timesheet. They then opened Word 2007, and had a plug in to their CRM cloud that allowed them to open a status report template, and populate it with data from the timesheet. Finally, still from the Word document workspace, they uploaded the timesheet to a doc library in SharePoint Services.

The home page of this SharePoint site had a cool Silverlight control that read into these status report documents and showed an aggregator gauge-looking Silverlight control that summed up the total hours and amounts billed.

But they showed us nothing more. There was, however, a breakout session that went over SharePoint Online, which is not part of Azure, but sits on top of it, along with services like Exchange Online, Dynamics CRM Online, etc. These "Online" offerings are essentially just a watered down, hosted version of the environment.

Which means a great option for SMB's, but boooooooring for developers. In SharePoint online, we get no server-side code, no Forms Services for InfoPath, no access to IIS or the web.config, and no feature / solution deployment. This only leaves master pages, out-of-the-box web parts, whatever SharePoint Designer can do, and, interestingly, Silverlight controls.

Now when it comes to SharePoint projects, you're going to need code in some way or another if the client wants even only moderate customizations or straight up custom functionality. This means that SharePoint Online is simply not a solution right now for enterprise portals that have a heavily branded look & feel, or custom functionality. By "right now" I mean that we were told more functionality was coming in future iterations of SharePoint Online; unfortunately, we live in "right now" and not V.next.

So in my opinion, SharePoint Online is great for organizations that don't have or want the IT infrastructure to deploy SharePoint to their network. If you need a portal in the cloud, you can get one. The pricing model is released, and there are two basic flavors tantamount to WSS and MOSS functionality. But if this portal is going to be anything more than a "SharePoint Blue" site collection with document libraries and announcement lists, I don't think SharePoint Online is the solution you're looking for.

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