I’ve just got a new mobile phone, a HTC Desire S. It is an impressive bit of kit, and is one of a number of HTC phones I’ve owned. Before that I had a Desire HD, and a Desire. I’ve also had a Google Nexus One, which was actually made by HTC.
I wouldn’t say the Desire S is a million miles away from the previous Desire, but it is clearly a few steps ahead. The hardware feels solid in the hand, the specs are good, it is probably HTCs best ‘iPhone beater’ so far. Clearly HTC have taken the Desire, looked at lessons learned from the Desire HD and their other phones, and come up with a slightly improved product. HTC have a wide range of devices, and whilst they don’t always hit the mark, they are slowly and iteratively getting better with each release.
This approach is a bit like that adopted by Android OS, the operating system these phones run. Having used an iPhone for years it was a bit of a shock to move over to Android. Yes their are lots of things I love, the extensibility is great, and the freedom that you just don’t get with an iPhone is also a breathe of fresh air. But Android never feels as polished, as slick. It doesn’t ‘feel’ as good as iOS, even though in places it is miles ahead. I’m not talking about features or technical specs, that is a very different topic, I’m talking about the user experience. I know this is an intangible thing, but it is important, and users moving between the two operating systems will know what I mean.
This situation frustrates me. Why can’t Google, with all their resources and cash, simply develop an iOS beater? And then walking to work this morning it struck me. They are doing, but slowly and iteratively. My Desire S comes with Android 2. 3, and it does feel a bit slicker and nicer to use than previous versions. Prior to this I had used v1.5 (Cupcake) and v1.6 (Donut), both of which were find but didn’t feel right. 2.0 (Eclair) is the version I have used the most, and felt a high step in the right direction, but only once you have got used to it. v2.3 (Gingerbread) feels a lot nicer again (look here for a low-down on the various verisons). The apps screen works better, settings are easier to get at, and the whole thing just hangs together better.
So Google are getting there. Its just they are taking it slowly and iteratively. Like their major software services (Gmail, Chrome, even search itself) they are rolling out lots of small improvements at a regular pace. This is common with a lot of the current web giants. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, even Amazon – they all regularly update their software and roll out new small features as and when they are ready.
So what does this have to do with SharePoint? Well Microsoft operate almost the opposite type of release schedule to that described above, and SharePoint is starting to suffer because of it. Microsoft, who are used to releasing a new version of Word or Excel every few years, have so far released 4 versions of SharePoint:
- SharePoint Portal Server 2001 was released early 2001
- SharePoint Server 2003 was released late 2003
- Office SharePoint Server 2007 was released early 2007
- SharePoint 2010 was released in the middle of 2010
Each release brings with it a raft of new features and integrated products – they are major releases. The first version of SharePoint used Exchange as a data storage platform. SQL Server was used for the next version, and the previously separate SharePoint Team Services was merged into the product. Content Management Server was added to SharePoint Server 2007, and SharePoint 2010 – well hopefully you are familiar by now with the host of new features in this version.
There are two key issues with Microsoft’s current approach. Firstly users are expecting what they see now on the web. People use Facebook, Twitter, Chatter, and any number of other systems on a regular basis. They use other CMS Systems, collaboration systems, and social networking sites on the web all the time. These systems iterate more regularly than SharePoint, and a gap in expectations begins to develop. How many times have I been asked to ‘implement Facebook using SharePoint’? I lose count. SharePoint MySites do lots of good things, but Facebook has moved on a lot since last year. Now Microsoft might be planning on adding many new features to SharePoint 2013 (or whenever we see it), but it is a long way off and users expectations will then be different again. The point is users expect what they see now on the web. SharePoint’s slower release cycle doesn’t tally with this.
Of course user expectations can be managed. For example I still believe most enterprise users don’t want Facebook, and MySites can do an extremely good job in answering actual requirements. But the second more important point is SharePoint is in danger of falling functionally behind its rivals. The big web players iterate regularly, let’s face it they just plain copy each other, but they innovate all the time – the sites grow and develop as a result. All this time Microsoft is in Redmond developing features now, for release in 2013. By then Facebook will look a whole lot differently, CMS systems will have moved on, and SharePoint may fall short.
The point here is maybe Microsoft needs to move SharePoint to a more iterative schedule. It needs to be able to react to what is going on in the wider industry much more quickly. They added status updates to SharePoint 2010, but its hardly Twitter is it?
In fairness they have already made steps in this direction with SharePoint Online, part of Office365. This cloud based platform may be more suited to regular updates, but the majority of SharePoint installations will most likely be locally installed for some time yet. MS need a way of iterating the local version of SharePoint more regularly.
The enterprise environment isn’t going to want ‘SharePoint Updates’ coming down the pipe every day. They need to be tested, users may need to be trained, systems need to be checked – this all costs money. But surely Microsoft can do something better than every 3/4 years. How about an update every 6 months? Or a year? How about a system that adds new ‘SharePoint features’ (turned off by default) or web parts to an existing installation?
We all know the Microsoft partner network provides a lot of functionality like I’ve described above – new plug-ins, features, and web parts. But Microsoft needs to consider something bigger, something that will add more significantly to the platform on a regular basis. We all love SharePoint 2010, just imagine how much we’d love a SharePoint 2011 in the summer?
I touched on a similar topic last year for CMSWire – Check it out