There was a thought-provoking and balanced post on this subject on ChannelWeb Tuesday. It makes the point that Sharepoint's growth and adoption mirrors that of Lotus Notes in the nineties. Like Notes, Sharepoint provides an easily-accessible application platform, and that accessibility can lead to problems of scaling, maintenance and management.
They quote a CMSWatch Report on Sharepoint, that says:
We have a lot of things to say about SharePoint, but for starters, we observe that it has become "the new Lotus Notes," repeating history as it mimics Notes' allure and pitfalls
The ChannelWeb article goes on to say:
CMS Watch's view is that with both Lotus Notes and SharePoint, flexibility is a double edged sword, and the ease with which custom applications can be built on the platform poses challenges for IT staff.
SharePoint also suffers from shortcomings with regard to its collaboration capabilities and lacks the scalability and administrative controls necessary to make it viable for enterprise deployments, according to CMS Watch.
The article quotes a couple of Sharepoint-savvy partners who agree that uncontrolled development can lead companies into trouble.
I think the article makes reasonable observations, but the most insightful point is made (or hinted at) towards the end:
But Ric Opal, vice president of Peters & Associates, an Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based solution provider, discounts comparisons between SharePoint and Lotus Notes. "We're in a different era, and the entire industry is different now than it was then," he said.
"With the applications being deployed on Sharepoint, the back end is SQL Server, which is robust and used by tons of applications. It's an industry standard database that just about anyone can write to," said Opal.
As for SharePoint's scalability limitations, Opal said "that's going to hold true with any technology if you don't properly architect a solution sitting on top of a database."
The real difference between Lotus Notes and Sharepoint is the underlying platform each was built on. Sharepoint is built on .NET and SQL and it's a first class element of the Microsoft application platform.
That was never the case for Lotus Notes. Notes was built on a set of unique technologies, none of which ever made it into the mainstream of IBM's application platform:
- The Notes database
- The Notes Directory and certificate structure
- The Notes application platform: programming model, document model, and language
IBM is clearly committed to DB2 as it's database, Tivoli for security and Websphere as its application platform. The fact that Lotus supported none of these drove IBM's disastrous migration of Notes to a new "Workplace" platform, which they announced at Lotusphere in 2002. That approach, recently and quietly abandoned, demonstrated clear IBM's ambivalence toward the product and created a five-year period of unrest for customers and partners.
As the Channelweb article concludes:
Recent indications that Microsoft is working to add new functionality to SharePoint suggest that the vendor isn't planning to rest on its laurels with SharePoint, says Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at twentysix New York, a New York-based IT consultancy.
Correct. The biggest differences between Notes and Sharepoint are in their underlying technology bases and the confidence and investment that their respective builders place in them.