Microsoft used its SharePoint Conference to announce that the public betas of both Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 and Microsoft Office 2010 will be available in November. The betas will reportedly include all the platforms' functionalities, and Microsoft intends them to be performance-stable.
Additionally, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer used the event as a platform for revealing some of SharePoint Server 2010's capabilities, including cloud-centric features as Web content management and business connectivity. SharePoint Server, in its various iterations, has served as Microsoft's traditional platform for enterprise search and connectivity, as well as integrating and accelerating shared business processes through the use of a unified infrastructure.
"SharePoint 2010 is the biggest and most important release of SharePoint to date," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement released ahead of the conference. "When paired with Microsoft Office 2010, SharePoint 2010 will transform efficiency by connecting workers across a single collaboration platform for business."
SharePoint Server 2010 will intersect with Office in areas such as social tagging and document lifecycle management. Technology from Microsoft's previous acquisition of FAST Search & Transfer in 2008 has been integrated into SharePoint 2010 to provide faster and more relevant results when searching through the hundreds, thousands, or even millions of documents that may exist within an enterprise network.
SharePoint Server 2010's focus on faster and more accurate enterprise search is more vital than simply trying to deliver an end-user's PowerPoint document a few milliseconds faster. As organizations expand, fragment and merge, an exponentially increasing amount of internal data needs to be archived, potentially for the long-term, in ways that are quickly retrievable. Functionality that increases the speed of enterprise search will also reduce the cost and burden of IT pros trying to manage that information in a way that promotes easy retrieval and access.
Social networking, an increasing buzzword within the enterprise, has also been given its due in SharePoint Server 2010. "We look at your social network," Jeff Teper, corporate vice present of Microsoft's Office Business Platform, explained in an interview with eWEEK about the platform's new functionality. "If you're the company expert on, say, oil and gas, you should come up near the top when I look for a resource on oil and gas; the [platform] should count on that I know you and what you do."
Teper also hinted that more business intelligence will be integrated into SharePoint Server 2010, courtesy of Microsoft's acquisition of business-intelligence software maker ProClarity in April 2006. ProClarity developed advanced analysis and visualization technologies designed to work with Microsoft products such as Microsoft SQL Server 2005, Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server, and Excel.
ProClarity had been a Microsoft partner for a number of years before the deal. Microsoft publicly announced that the acquisition would play into its business-intelligence strategy of integrating applications such as those offered by the smaller company into its end-to-end solutions, with the actual BI tools offered through a single dashboard-style interface.
Ballmer plans on using the SharePoint Conference to highlight several new additions to SharePoint Server 2010, including:
Ribbon User Interface: Microsoft specialized toolbars will theoretically allow users to customize their SharePoint sites, as well as boost their workflow speed via customized tabs.
Deep Office Integration: As mentioned above, Microsoft has concentrated on including functionality in the new version of SharePoint, such as social tagging and document lifecycle management, that will add another layer of suppleness and functionality to Office 2010.
Built-In Rich Media Support: SharePoint Server 2010 will support SilverLight as well as video and audio content, supposedly making it easier to construct Web sites with dynamic content.
Web Content Management Features: SharePoint Server 2010 will leverage Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, an updated version of the guidelines that explain how Web content developers and authoring-tools builders can create Web content accessible to people with disabilities. It will also include multi-lingual support and one-click page layout.
Microsoft Visual Studio: Developers will have access to Microsoft Visual Studio tools.
Business Connectivity Services: Connects line-of-business data and Web services to SharePoint Server and Office 2010 capabilities.
Rich APIs: In addition to support for SilverLight, SharePoint Server 2010 will also support Representational State Transfer (REST) and Language Integrated Query (LINQ) for application-building on the SharePoint platform.
Enterprise Features in SharePoint Online: Allows for the sharing and management of interactive forms across an organization via integrated features such as Excel Services and InfoPath Forms Services.
Two new SharePoint SKUs: Companies now have a choice of running their SharePoint platform themselves, or running SharePoint in the cloud via SharePoint online.
Microsoft's Office 2010 represents something of a sea change for the company, which has traditionally based its productivity suite on the desktop. However, the latest version will also be available via the cloud, for free, albeit with stripped-down functionality not available in the full retail version.
Microsoft also plans to have Office 2010 come pre-installed on PCs produced by major manufacturers. Users purchasing these systems will have access to Office Starter 2010, which will be free and include stripped-down versions of Word and Excel in which documents can be created, viewed and saved. Upgrading to the full Office 2010 will be a matter of purchasing a single-use license on a plastic card from a retailer such as Best Buy, and then inputting the code to unlock the functionality.
That specific feature will be of less concern to the enterprise, which acquires its infrastructure through different channels, but could be of concern to SMBs (small and midsize businesses).
Available to Microsoft Live subscribers, the online versions of OneNote, Excel, Word and PowerPoint will not replicate the features of the full Office 2010. Microsoft also plans on offering Office as a hosted subscription service, in addition to the regular desktop/on-premises version. A mobile version of Office for both Windows Mobile 6.5 and Nokia's Symbian OS was previously announced.
Microsoft's offering of Office 2010 on the Web, along with increased cloud-based functionality, seems a direct challenge to Google Apps and other free cloud-based applications and productivity suites that have been capturing a great deal of media attention lately.
Office 2010 represents just one part of a massive software-platform refresh, along with Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008, that Microsoft hopes will revive its fortune after a 2009 marked at times by declining revenues reports and layoffs. Windows 7, the next generation of Redmond's operating systems, will make its debut in New York on Oct. 22.