Sharepoint: a Sleeper Hit?

Software may be linchpin in Microsoft's growth plans

While Microsoft watchers continue to obsess over Microsofts plans to take on Google, few are paying attention to a family of products that could emerge as one of the main revenue generators for the company over the next few years.

The SharePoint collaboration/workgroup software family could be one of Microsofts sleeper hits in the not-too--distant future—at least based on how hard the company is pushing it to customers.

On May 15, Microsoft played host to 1,300 SharePoint customers and partners at its SharePoint Conference, in Bellevue, Wash., where Chairman Bill Gates and other key Microsoft executives extolled the virtues of SharePoint to the capacity crowd.

Microsofts SharePoint products include both its SharePoint Server 2007 successor to SharePoint Portal Server 2003, as well as its Windows SharePoint Services Version 3 technologies.

Microsoft has sold more than 75 million SharePoint Portal Server 2003 licenses to date. More than 180 Microsoft partners are building SharePoint solutions. And just about every Windows customer is using Windows SharePoint Services, according to Microsoft officials.

SharePoint could be the linchpin in Microsoft Business Division President Jeff Raikes plan to double Microsofts information--worker revenues from 2002 levels to reach $20 billion by 2010. (To meet that goal, Microsoft would have to add $8.4 billion in sales over four years.)

Rather than the Microsoft Office desktop productivity suite, "the server products are what Raikes is counting on for that $20 billion," said Rob Helm, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, in Kirkland, Wash. In addition to SharePoint, Raikes also is likely banking on Exchange Server sales, as well as sales of Microsoft Project, which, as Helm said, "is now Microsofts sixth-largest business [after its Windows, Office, Windows Server, SQL Server and Exchange products] and is also in Raikes organization."

Microsofts hope is that it will be able to convince its Office desktop users that their lives will be vastly improved if they also run SharePoint Server on the back end. Microsoft is designing its next-generation Office suite so that all the Office 2007 desktop applications make use of SharePoint Server 2007. For example, users of Word 2007 and Excel 2007 will be able to kick off business intelligence and content- management functions directly from inside the desktop applications.

SharePoint Server 2007 includes an in--tegrated set of technologies that span collaboration; BI (via Microsoft Excel Server functionality); portal; business proc-ess; enterprise content management (via Microsofts Content Management Server technology); and search.

A growing number of product teams inside Microsoft also are finding ways to integrate, if not outright package, their wares with SharePoint Server as well.

"Any organization at Microsoft that is thinking about using some kind of portal almost always has SharePoint inside," said Kurt DelBene, corporate vice president of Microsofts Office Server Group.

Microsoft also is seeking to position SharePoint as a development platform, the same way it has pushed to make Office and Windows Live platforms on the level of Windows and .Net. The company is putting the finishing touches on SharePoint Designer, a new development tool built by the Microsoft FrontPage team that is tailored to building SharePoint sites. (SharePoint De-signer is the complement to Expression Web Designer, code-named Quartz, a tool aimed more at designers than at developers.)

"If you are building a line-of-business application, its natural to think of that as a SharePoint site as well," DelBene said, "especially if you are talking about ERP [enterprise resource planning], CRM [customer relationship management] and business----process-oriented" kinds of solutions.