SharePoint alternatives seek to fill in the gaps

Midsized organizations, using either the free or paid version of Microsoft's SharePoint, find some room for improvement and seek third-party integration and add-ons.

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When it comes to departmental file sharing or collaborative workspaces, Microsoft's SharePoint has legions of fans in midsized companies. But for those not interested in paying for SharePoint (the basic version is free), or who find some features immature in the latest version, there are SharePoint alternatives.

The reason for SharePoint adoption is clear: Many organizations (and non-IT departments) began grassroots deployments after they upgraded to Windows Server and got a basic SharePoint feature set for free. There were also products in the SharePoint family available for a fee, including SharePoint Portal Server 2003, which many organizations used as a steppingstone to Microsoft Office SharePoint 2007 (MOSS 2007). MOSS 2007 is a major upgrade from SharePoint Server 2003, with a lot more functionality.

The move to MOSS 2007 seems to be natural once users install Office 2007. A Forrester Research Inc. survey conducted in March of 233 IT decision makers using Office 2007 showed that 24% said they had immediate plans to move to MOSS 2007 and 41% expected to install it within six months. And in yet-to-be-published research, Information Architected Inc. found that of 400 respondents surveyed, the majority of the midmarket companies already had MOSS 2007 installed. Midmarket companies accounted for 35% of the respondents, and among this group, half said price was not an inhibitor for MOSS deployments. Although nearly half -- 46% -- said the price was higher than they expected.

"When we asked [the survey respondents] if the cost of MOSS was in line with their expectations or more than they expected, 50% said the cost was pretty much in line with their expectations," said Carl Frappaolo, co-founder and principle of Boston-based Information Architected.

Microsoft estimates MOSS pricing at $4,424 for a server license and $94 per client access license in the U.S.

Microsoft's strategy with SharePoint is to undercut competing enterprise content management (ECM) products that are perceived as complex and expensive, with a product that promises ease of use, flexibility and a less costly enterprise-scale feature set. One key benefit is its tight integration with other Microsoft products such as Exchange Server, Office Communications Server, Office Live Meeting and Live Workspace. Simplicity allows business departments to create their own team workspaces.

"Basic functions like workspaces typically come first and getting governance around that, then people tend to explore other areas [of SharePoint] based on pain points or risk factors," said Rob Koplowitz, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester.

MOSS' capabilities range from basic collaboration to portal creation and business intelligence content management. Yet MOSS' breadth is both too much and not enough for some midmarket users.

While the portal capabilities in MOSS are mature, for example, some companies are holding off on what they perceive as less-developed features in the suite, such as social networking, enterprise search and Web content management capabilities. These companies are waiting until Microsoft releases the next version, Koplowitz said.

Another potential drawback is a dearth in skill sets, as well as a lack of SharePoint documentation coming from Microsoft, said John Bissa, a partner and Web development team leader at accounting firm Plante & Moran PLLC in Southfield, Mich. On the surface, SharePoint is easy to get off the ground, but he said he's finding that people quickly get in over their heads.

"There's a lot of bad SharePoint [deployments] out there because there are more people deploying it than those who know how to use it," he said.

The alternatives

Although SharePoint appears to be on a lot of CIOs' agendas, midmarket businesses have plenty of other choices.

There's integration with enterprise content management systems. IBM offers integration between FileNet ECM and MOSS 2007, for example. Fellow competitor Oracle Corp. has made it possible for users to access Oracle Universal Content Management files from the SharePoint interface.

There are also third-party add-ons (see related story, above right).

Lotus Notes and Domino's collaboration and content management capabilities are often stacked up as a SharePoint alternative, as are Lotus Quickr and Novell's SiteScape for workspaces. There is also Oracle's WebCenter suite for portals and Web application development and its Beehive online workplace.

Open Text Corp., with its ECM suite, is another company that both competes and integrates with SharePoint.

Competing products and vendors include Jive Software's Clearspace business social community software, which has customers in the midsized market, and Atlassian Software Systems Pty Ltd. and Socialtext Inc. These started out as wikis but are broadening their community-based collaborative offerings.

For open source alternatives, Alfresco Software Inc. has its ECM platform and Drupal is free software that lets you build community workspaces and portals.

Yet for all these options, SharePoint may be the 800-pound gorilla -- at least for now.

"Competitors are trying to do similar things [as SharePoint], but they really only have point solutions in comparison," said Peter O'Kelly, a Boston-based independent industry analyst.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Christina Torode, Senior News Writer. 

This was first published in December 2008

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