The Measure of a Platform

In launching SharePoint 2010 this week, Microsoft unveils more than a product. It unveils the contradictions that are built into its attempt to have things both ways: to talk cloud, but ship (eventually) software.

SharePoint 2010 lands right on the spot where the target used to be. The vision of collaboration found in SharePoint 2010 dates back to 2007, when Microsoft shipped the previous release – and a few things have changed since then. While SharePoint users are talking about their repositories of files, Chatter users are getting real-time alerts from their accounts and their cases and their apps.

Don't blame SharePoint 2010's developers: they're limited by the enormous inertia of a legacy platform. They're not getting the benefit of the positive-feedback loop that drives companies like salesforce.com, or Amazon Web Services, whose entire bet is genuinely "all in" the cloud. Each of those true cloud companies represents a process of launching cloud services, listening to feedback from service consumers, incorporating that feedback – and discovering, after several cycles, that an extraordinary platform has emerged.

Force.com, in particular, was developed to enable the power and flexibility that customers wanted to see in salesforce.com's applications. By the time that Force.com was offered to outside developers, it had already built a solid record of security, reliability, and developer productivity in the service of tens of thousands of organizations and hundreds of thousands of individual subscribers. Force.com grew out of an environment where upgrades come at a rate of three per year, not once every three years.

Microsoft's path to the cloud resembles one of those emergency off-ramps that you see on a long stretch of highway. They look as if they lead up to something new, but they're really designed to trap inconvenient momentum until the driver can get things fixed. The momentum of the cloud is an accelerating threat to Microsoft's capital-intensive, labor-intensive legacy model; the Azure platform is an off-ramp designed to divert .Net developers away from a path that leads to something better, by offering them instead something that's supposed to be more familiar. There are two things wrong with that illusion:

  1. Azure is only superficially similar to .Net, as Forrester analyst John Rymer has made clear with his warning that "development managers should view Azure as a brand new platform";
  2. Developers should wonder if they wouldn't rather have something better, such as Force.com with its independently measured 5x acceleration of developer productivity.

Why isn't SharePoint 2010 built on Azure? No one needs any help in answering that question. As growing numbers of application developers notice that contradiction, they'll look elsewhere for a path that truly leads to a real-time, social, enterprise-ready cloud platform.

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Published
May 11, 2010
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