Office 365 and SharePoint 2013: Google Apps-killer?

11:28 May 13th - Rich Browne

Morph London would like to proudly present our first guest blog post. Our good friend and SharePoint expert Rich Browne shares his thoughts on the future of SharePoint and Office 365. Morph London are very excited about the prospect of working with Sharepiont in the future as it moves towards HTML / CSS  and JavaScript and new REST web services.

Microsoft have just changed the game. With the recent launch of SharePoint 2013 and Office 365, small businesses can now get enterprise level, cloud-based email and web-based office products at a competitive cost. Also, the new apps for SharePoint and Office open the doors for app publishers and consumers to enhance their SharePoint and Office experiences cheaply and easily.

12 years in the making

SharePoint. The name means different things to different people, but no one can deny its success in the enterprise market place. When it was first introduced by Microsoft back in 2001, it was an awkward and clunky document management system. Since then, it’s grown into one of the company’s most successful product lines, encompassing many different areas of functionality, such as enterprise document management and collaboration, web content management, enterprise search, workflow and business intelligence.

The basic SharePoint 2013 team site is a starting point for collaboration.

The basic SharePoint 2013 team site is a starting point for collaboration.

Enterprise organisations have flocked to adopt the product, favouring its jack-of-all-trades model over more expensive, specialist products.

Not just a product, but a platform

SharePoint is also well known for its level of customisability, with an extensive API that can be leveraged using Microsoft’s .NET development framework. However, deploying and customising SharePoint is no cheap undertaking. The platform’s complexity means that building a robust and scalable solution requires teams of experienced specialist architects and developers. While their third-party tools are numerous, they are mostly targeted to the enterprise and priced accordingly.

In reality, that complexity along, with license costs and infrastructure requirements meant, that few small- to medium-sized organisations could realistically deploy SharePoint in any meaningful way, let alone customise or brand their SharePoint sites for their own purposes.

Apps and the online office

The arrival of SharePoint 2013 presents a marked change in direction for Microsoft’s flagship portal and collaboration product. Microsoft have brought SharePoint into line with mobile and desktop third-party product distribution by introducing “apps” for SharePoint – a whole new approach for customisation that focuses on HTML5/CSS3, client-side JavaScript (with popular libraries such as jQuery and Knockout), and REST web services rather than proprietary server-side code as with previous versions of the product.

Apps add a whole new dimension to customising SharePoint.

Apps add a whole new dimension to customising SharePoint.

Together with Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 platform (which provides organisations with the Office suite of products), SharePoint, enterprise-grade email and audio/video conferencing, smaller organisations for the first time can access SharePoint’s features and purchase apps or build their own for much more practical costs.

Rich, engaging office documents?

Microsoft have made it very clear that apps are the way to go when choosing how to build new features and functionality for the platform. In fact, they have even provided an online store so that app creators can distribute their products to the marketplace, and consumers can locate and purchase third-party apps quickly and easily.

And it’s not just SharePoint that has been “apped”; the Office product suite has been given the same treatment. Want a stock ticker in your Excel spreadsheet? Done! Need an interactive graph in your Word document? No problem! Your Office docs can now contain an HTML5/JavaScript app baked right into the content, providing any kind of engaging new experience that simply was not possible in previous versions.

Web standards and social integration

Apps aren’t the only new feature of SharePoint 2013 to strengthen an already impressive feature set. Microsoft have added a feature called Device Channels which enables easier implementation of responsive website design. They have also expanded browser support to include proper Safari compatibility, which will make the legions of iPad business users happy. Social networking will become a seriously important feature of SharePoint with Microsoft’s $1.2B acquisition of Yammer (the popular enterprise social network). Starting from this summer, SharePoint will be updated to include integration with Yammer social networks, enabling a real ‘Facebook’ style experience for SharePoint users to work with their enterprise content and connect with colleagues.

Yammer integration will be coming to SharePoint from summer 2013

Yammer integration will be coming to SharePoint from summer 2013

With Office 365 and SharePoint 2013, small businesses have a real opportunity to access enterprise features that were previously not an option, directly challenging Google’s cloud-based Apps for Businesses offering. Time will tell whether Microsoft will be successful in wrestling away Google’s share of the small business online office market.

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The Author

Rich Browne

Rich has been working with various web technologies for over 10 years, developing web applications and working with various CMS and database products. He now specialises in Microsoft's SharePoint and .NET framework, primarily on enterprise-scale projects and Intranets.

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