The Danger of Sharepoint

Here at WSU, everyone is getting really big into Sharepoint. Our office is even starting to use it as the primary method of transferring secure documents, because it’s password protected, encrypted, and has a decent ACL model. Of course, this doesn’t really make up for the glaring problems inherent in Sharepoint.

Even though Sharepoint appears to be a ASP.NET application, there is a surprisingly large number of P/Invoke calls into Windows-only DLLs. Of course, this means that Sharepoint will never run on Mono, which was undoubtedly Microsoft’s plan all along. Even as a web application, Sharepoint is severely lacking. It’s almost entirely dependent on ActiveX controls, which limit it’s usefulness almost entirely to Internet Explorer. Sorry Firefox/Opera/Safari users, you’ll have to make sure to use IE for this one single application. Even on Windows, it’s a hassle because you’re going to be prompted to install almost a dozen ActiveX controls.

Using Sharepoint is interesting. Every user is expected to create their own personal page, called a “MySite”, which they can populate with anything they want, provided a “WebPart” exists for it already. If it doesn’t, WebParts can be created in any .NET language. I can not yet speak to the ease or difficulty in creating WebParts, though from what I understand it is fairly easy. With Sharepoint 2007, Microsoft has made available a large number of WebParts, from RSS readers, to Blog Software, to Calendars, to Document Lists. All modifications to a site are handled via the web, adding content is a matter of dropping a new Web Part on the page and setting some configuration options. It’s actually pretty slick.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it could be. If you’ve got a list of web parts on a page, and you want to reorganize things, you’ve got to edit obscurely named (to the average user, at least). Plus, there doesn’t appear to be an easy way to move a webpart from one column to another. Google’s iGoogle Gadgets should have been the model for how to handle moving of elements around in the page.

Still, Sharepoint is gaining in popularity because it is fairly complete groupware, and if you’re already a windows house it’s integrated support for Microsoft Office files, including revisioning, is excellent. As a collaboration tool on files, particularly with the WebDAV support it offers for mapping Sharepoint sites as if they were drives. It’s a decent, if cumbersome, community-oriented tool.

However, unless Microsoft drops all the ActiveX controls, something they’re unlikely to do, it will be incredibly hard to use for anyone who doesn’t use Internet Explorer. Do yourself, and your company a favor. Avoid vendor lock-in. Avoid Sharepoint.