An application that many users have never seen--Microsoft's SharePoint--plays a key role in Windows Phone 7 Series' Office Hub, the center of business activities in the new smartphone operating system.
On a phone with rich social networking features, adding business collaboration through SharePoint seems only natural, if not obvious. Microsoft, however, might not be alone in offering this capability.
SharePoint is a mature technology that Microsoft has invested in for more than a decade. It has, however, morphed over time and is variously promoted to both individual and enterprise customers.
SharePoint is offered as a standalone server, a Microsoft hosted service, and even as a limited free product, the Microsoft Office Live workspace. The SharePoint name has been associated with a variety of components over the years, leading to some confusion as to what its actually does and who is its intended customer.
Microsoft has sold more than a million licenses for SharePoint Server and considers the collaboration platform to be one of the fastest-growing products in its server portfolio, in terms of sales, according to Microsoft. (HP has recently updated records management software to provide back-up services for SharePoint files and workspaces.)
I find it easiest to think of SharePoint as a tool for creating intranets and extranets for businesses, workgroups, projects, or even single documents. These might include document management, calendar, to-do lists, member lists, and similar features. These shared workspaces are powerful ways for teams to work effectively together, especially on complex tasks.
SharePoint can also be used to create complex business portals, which gather information into dashboards for use by C-level decisionmakers. At the high end, SharePoint is a Lotus Notes competitor, and also powers complex document management systems.
Google, meanwhile, has recently been adding collaboration features to its Google Apps and Google Docs cloud-based applications suites.Neither comes close to matching the capabilities of SharePoint, but many users might not notice the difference in basic collaborative workspaces.
It should be easy for Google to surface these features prominently in a future revision to its Android smartphone operating system. The company has already indicated its next smartphone would be an enterprise device, so adding collaboration would be a way for Google to match Microsoft feature-for-feature.
There is no comparison in high-end functionality, but Google's ease-of-use and accessibility could, if enhanced, make its collaboration options attractive to business customers.
On Windows Phone Series 7, SharePoint has a prominent place in the phone's user interface, which includes a start page and five activity hubs that present people-related, pictures, gaming, music + video, and business features to users.
The illustration at left, (click for larger image), shows a panoramic view the Office Hub's user interface. SharePoint slides into view when the user scrolls the panoramic Business Hub opening screen to the left.
Adding SharePoint capabilities to a business-oriented smartphone is a good idea, although it is impossible to at this point tell what Windows Phone 7 includes that couldn't be done just as well by any Web browser connecting to a SharePoint server.
How Microsoft plans to make the mobile SharePoint experience special, especially when used with SharePoint Server 2010, is something to watch as the mobile OS continues its roll-out.
Even with considerable unknowns, however, a smartphone that makes collaboration easy to use ought to generate some excitement, especially among large enterprises where SharePoint is already widely deployed and highly customized. How those customizations will be supported on smartphones, however, is also not clear at this time.
I am excited that Microsoft is trying to do something different with its now mobile platform, especially related to collaboration, a close relative of social networking, and improved note-taking.
My bet is that these will become key reasons for business users to upgrade to Windows Phone 7, but that will remain to be seen as details of the new smartphone OS continue to unfold in coming months.
At the same time, however, Microsoft faces likely competition from Google, already there to provide at least entry-level collaboration to its customers, too.