Is SharePoint 2010 the New Windows XP?

I’m starting to suspect that Microsoft did too good a job with SharePoint 2010. I’m starting to suspect that organizations may not want to move to SharePoint 2013, but will remain on the 2010 platform for a very long time.

I’m using Windows XP as an example here, and I’ll tell you why I find the comparison interesting.

My Vacation

I’ve recently (which all you relative time buffs know is a completely pointless thing to say in a permanent medium) been on a road-trip in the US. When we travelled to the US, I frequently glanced on the computer screens on the various terminals both those used to display information to users but also those used by employees.

I was intrigued but frankly not very surprised to see that many of these screens (at least the employee ones) displayed the very familiar Windows XP logo bouncing around the screen as a screensaver. Granted, I’m sure that technically these screensavers could run on any version of Windows, but I highly doubt that all those computers ran an old Windows XP screensaver on the latest Windows 8 version.

In fact, on one workstation, where we had to be rebooked to later flight due to delays, the only use the had for Windows XP was to launch a console application where the attendant used text input to query and book the new flight for us. In other words, the application either was still or was ported from a DOS-days era application, and the attendants had white text on a black background as their only interface. This was a major US airline, by the way.

Note: I feel old when I feel obliged to explain how user interfaces was back in the days before Windows 95.

The point of this observation? Why do organizations choose to stay with the old versions? I have some ideas.

If It Works, Don’t Touch It!

The world isn’t moving along quite as fast as the marketing gurus in Redmond would like you to believe. Organizations, including some of the largest ones in the world, still rely heavily on Windows XP because it works. The applications built for that version still continue to solve the problems for which they were designed. To users and organizations that’s enough. The underlying technology is unimportant. The problems those XP-based applications solve aren’t going to change just because Windows 8 gets a new fluid interface.

For business users, it is the same thing. A business solution that solves a problem, whether that is how to find an employee to translate a letter to French or getting John’s vacation request approved, isn’t going to need updating until the problem changes. If the solution is built in SharePoint 2010, SharePoint 2007, or WordPress is unimportant to the user and the organization as long as the problem is solved or at least goes away.

Note: I’ve previously written about this, in Why SharePoint Versions and Tools Do Not Matter.

Security

You may think that a major reason for upgrading from Windows XP is that there are security issues in working with old software. After all, we’re always told to run the latest version of every piece of software we own, right?

Well, the reality isn’t nearly as simple as that. In reality, the problems of Windows XP are well known. Windows XP has been around for over ten years and have been attacked, hardened, attacked again, and hardened again so many times that is is one of the best understood major operating systems today. In short, Windows XP has been in the trenches longer than most and has the scars to prove it has survived.

This is different from updates to, for example, Java and Flash, where security is often implemented by releasing a new version. In major systems, like Windows and SharePoint, security is mainly improved by releasing fixes and service packs, but the version remains. In fact, when you release a completely new version, you clean the slate of any security knowledge and start out with a completely new set of security issues that will eventually be discovered and fixed. You put a new guy in the trenches, so to speak, without the experience that a battle veteran may have.

Speaking of experience…

Those Pesky Users!

Computers would be so great if they didn’t have users. I’m not just talking about your average end user, I’m talking about everyone that needs to learn about a new version every time you upgrade.

One major reason why many believe Windows 8 may be a consumer upgrade never adopted by business is that it’s simply too different from previous version. For organizations, different means expense, whether it is improvement or not. Too much different and the cost becomes too high. Windows 8 might just be enough different that the cost in general prevents widespread business adoption.

Note: Windows 7, on the other hand, is much more similar in experience to Windows XP, which is why it is the most likely candidate for upgrades from Windows XP.

I see the same thing in SharePoint 2013. The user interface, experience, and terminology is just that much different that we need to retrain our users to understand where to find things they previously knew where was. That’s a cost.

For SharePoint professionals, there just that much deprecated functionality and that much new in terms of concepts that we need to rethink a huge portion of what we know. That’s a cost too.

The difference, of course, is that as SharePoint professionals, we are expected to live inside the platform and a major part of our job description is platform knowledge. To users, it is not, not even close. Users’ job description is “Be a secretary and handle appointments, get coffee, and file stuff”, or “Move this piece of equipment over to that piece of raw material to create a widget” or “Make sure these people get their salaries paid on time”. Nothing in that includes retraining in doing those things using a completely different platform. To users, retraining on using a tool is simply a cost, a burden, and they’ll avoid it if they possibly can.

Is SharePoint 2013 Doomed From the Start?

If you agree with my points so far, you may think that SharePoint 2013 is doomed. After all, with so many benefits in remaining on a proven, secure, and well-understood platform, why would anyone want to take the risk of upgrading?

Well, there are plenty of reasons. I’ll get back to many of these in later articles, but consider these as teasers:

New problems

SharePoint hasn’t solved every problem in the known universe. There are still four or more organizations in the world that do not run SharePoint and at least two ASP.NET developers who hasn’t yet seen the light and accepted our lord and savior SharePoint into their hearts. These will want to invest in a platform that has the longest lifespan, and SharePoint 2013 is the better candidate as it appears now.

Maintenance

When all the cool kids (meaning SharePoint professionals) get their way and start learning the new SharePoint 2013 version, organizations will find it increasingly difficult to locate someone to build and subsequently support solutions built for SharePoint 2010. Think of how few people really target SharePoint 2007 today (just a bit over two years since it was the current version), or even how few actually do anything on SharePoint 2003.

Support

Then, there’s the dreaded Damocles sword of official Microsoft support. In fact, contrary to the anecdote of the Greeks, we know that the sword will fall, and even at what time. That doesn’t change the impending doom of any old version; at some point, Microsoft will stop supporting your installation and you will not receive any further fixes, no matter how much you beg.

Still Confused?

I don’t think SharePoint 2013 is doomed in any way. I think it will have a much harder time gaining traction than SharePoint 2010 had, but eventually it, or its successor SharePoint 2016, will overtake SharePoint 2010.

However, SharePoint 2013 may find itself in a Windows Vista or Windows 8 position. It may be too much, too fast for organizations and business end users. It is certainly a gutsy move from Microsoft, but I think it is required and right, even if a lot of users and organizations will stay out.

If you need my opinion on whether to upgrade or not, check out my article SharePoint 2013 Upgrade or Not: Five Strategies to Help You Decide.

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I Was Wrong – Kill The SharePoint Designer Design View!

One of the major controversies of SharePoint 2013 is that SharePoint Designer 2013 Design View is gone. I’ve previously written why this is a good thing for SharePoint developers, but I wrote it in a sarcastic manner and concluded that I hoped they took it back.

I was wrong. Note the date and where you were, this may be a pop quiz in future schools.

I take it back. Not the whole blog post, but the point about bringing Design View back. Kill the damn thing, right now.

Note: I should mention that I wrote the original blog post before I went on a two week vacation, so although it’s published just a few days prior to this post, it’s actually several weeks old.

Why SharePoint Designer Was Wrong

When SharePoint 2007 came out, or at least a couple of years later when SharePoint Designer became free of charge, the SharePoint power users of the world celebrated in any way they could. Finally, they had a way to translate their combination knowledge of business and SharePoint to build powerful business solutions without having to become too technical.

Ostensibly, that’s a good thing, so the surprise was huge when the SharePoint 2013 preview came out with a severely wing-clipped version of SharePoint Designer 2013. No longer could power users drag-and-drop web parts or complex queries onto a design surface and expect visual aids in configuring the functionality. Now, it is all source code view, and you need to write code to make magic happen.

And that’s a good thing.

You see, SharePoint Designer was a failed experiment. Power users, not to mention end users, aren’t capable of handling the power without extensive training. The result is what Jeff Teper called “the MySpace effect” or something along those lines; sites were customized and modified without thought for proper development practices, leading to failed implementations and a bad name for SharePoint. Microsoft had to do something.

Microsoft’s Message

In 2007, Microsoft bet that power users would be able to handle the power of SharePoint Designer. Granted, there were lots of failsafe features in place to prevent the most major catastrophes, but users are users and tend to work actively to circumvent those limitations.

One example is how users circumvented the dangers of loops in workflows. In fact, I’ve even myself written about how to create loops in SharePoint Designer workflows (in SharePoint Designer 2007 Workflows, if you’re wondering), even though I know from decades of experience how dangerous loops are. More times than once have I received distress calls from people who have done it wrong and taken down entire farms of SharePoint servers.

In SharePoint Designer 2013, Microsoft takes a stance and essentially say that “we were wrong, power users are not capable of handling development”. Power users now have to either learn how to use and write code or they need to limit themselves to what they can do through the first tier of development (meaning web parts and web based development).

Or, they need to get a new job. The days of the power user may be gone, or at least have the “power” part of the title removed. Now you’re either a developer and you write code, or you’re a user.

This Is a Good Thing!

You may be surprised at this, or even think I’m again being sarcastic, but I’m dead serious.

The lack of design view is a bold and correct move for SharePoint. Being a SharePoint developer, SPD or not, is not a casual pastime, but requires extensive training and knowledge. Turn the power to create over to non-trained people and you’re on a path littered with landmines, barbed wire, and undetonated munitions. It can be and has proven to be, a very dangerous place.

With Microsoft’s wing-clipping of power users, SharePoint will be less susceptible to bad development. Organizations will have fewer problems (albeit also fewer options), and when they do decide they need to do development, they will need to go to people who are more likely to have a proper developer background, which should provide more efficient and stable solutions too.

Of course, power users will scream their lungs out about the unfairness of Microsoft’s ultimatum. No longer can they float on easy (but dangerous) tools, and those unwilling to learn are upset about the bad news.

However, for SharePoint, it’s good news. For the customers, it’s good news. That means it’s good news for Microsoft too, even though it is a bold and risky gamble.

So, kill the design view, once and for all. Fix the basics first, and let the professionals formerly known as power users order new business cards or go back to whatever it was they were doing before 2007.

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Become a SharePoint Professional – Key Questions to Ask Part 2: Your Attitude

In the Becoming a SharePoint Professional series of blog articles, I’m exploring what it takes to make it as a golfer in Bahamas. I also might mention a hobby of mine, SharePoint.

To make it as a golfer in Bahamas, you need to whack a small ball into a hole, preferably with fewer whacks than anyone else.

Now let’s explore a bit more about that hobby of mine, SharePoint, and what you attitude should be if you plan on exploring a career as a SharePoint Professional.

It’s All About Expectations

You may know that being a SharePoint professional, or even doing any kind of work in the SharePoint business, can be quite lucrative. By lucrative, I mean that it is quite common to see hourly rates at or above $200 per hour, in some cases far higher, and there seems to be a steady stream of work to be done. If you make it, you can have a high salary, work on an exciting platform, and deliver great value to your clients. There really aren’t that many ‘downs’ at all. If you make it.

The thing is, making it takes a lot of work, so it is important that you have the right expectations and don’t come into SharePoint expecting to flip a switch and be a millionaire.

In reality, working in SharePoint is a job, just like any other field. Despite the boom SharePoint has seen in later years, there’s no magic that leads everyone to become rich. Some people will be hugely successful, others will make a living, and some will fail and not get past even the first hurdles of the track.

How can you know what to do to avoid failure? Well, as the heading says, it’s all about expectations.

The first question you need to ask yourself is where you want to go. In other words: What do you want?

Note: Shadows are still cool.

Many will answer this along one of three lines, combining various levels of interest (meaning your willingness to work) and your desired outcome (meaning what you want in return).

  • I want to know a bit more so I can dabble a bit (low interest, low expectations)
  • I want to make SharePoint my job (medium interest, medium expectations)
  • I want a piece of the SharePoint money-cake (high interest, high expectations)

Of these three, the biggest chance of success comes from the second path, in which you have a balance of interest and expectations. As for any field, the more risk you are willing to take (higher interest) the more you may expect to get in return (high expectations), but also, the higher the fall is should you not manage to succeed.

If you come to SharePoint with wide eyes and plans to turn a quick buck (low interest, high expectations), then turn around instead. There are far better (or worse) get-rich-quick schemes out there. You should probably burn your fingers on a few of them before you even attempt to investigate any career. You can make big money in SharePoint just like you can make big money on being a professional football player, but it takes a lot of hard work and only a few actually manage to do it.

Perhaps surprisingly to  some, the geek attitude (high interest, low expectations) won’t work either. SharePoint is more about business than about technology, and consumers (as in your clients) expect you to understand and embrace the business mentality to a much greater extent than is the case for, for example, plain .NET developers or server operators. I’m actually an example of this myself; I truly have no interest in money or being rich, so I work only to the extent required to pay my bills and then I geek around the rest of the time. Had I been more aggressive in my approaches to clients, I would likely have had more financial success and more high-paying clients.

If, however, you come to SharePoint and are willing to put in the hours, days, weeks, months, and years it takes to succeed, then you may very well be on the path towards a great career.

Keep in mind that the community celebrities of SharePoint have years of passionate work behind them, often at the expense of mostly everything else. You won’t become a SharePoint superstar between 8 AM and 4 PM, you’ll need to put in the evenings and sometimes even the nights. Weekends sounds like a nice idea, but you’ll be working instead. If you have no spouse, consider yourself lucky. If you have no kids, you may just be in a position to make it.

Think About Your Family!

Speaking of spouses, and kids, remember that the investment you make may seem like it’s free. After all, you’re just spending a few hours every evening reading up on documentation, writing proposals, or testing out a new backup strategy or tool. After all, you can’t spend all your weekends at the cottage or with the in-laws, can you?

Well, most people that work do their jobs in order not to work. In other words, you work for 8 hours per day to finance the remainder of the day, of which 8 hours is sleep. So, although simplified, every hour you work you get one hour of waking time off. That hour is actually your payment; your salary pays for the expenses you have away from work. If you work as many hours as you have waking time off, then your salary is actually 1:1 in work/time off, give or take a slight profit or loss, depending on whether you are able to save up a few bucks over time.

My point here is that the time off belongs to you and your family and friends. If you put in extra hours of work, then you shift the reward towards the worse. If you work just a couple of hours more per day, and have 6 hours off to spend with your spouse, kids, and friends, then your pay per hour is much lower and the cost of your time with your family and friends is much higher. For every hour of a  working day with them, you now have to work 1 hour and 40 minutes. Those additional 40 minutes comes directly from your life and is almost twice what you have to pay if you just work a regular 8 hour per day job.

Are you sure you are willing to pay that price? Are you sure your family realizes the cost?

This isn’t really isolated to SharePoint, however, but I think you should keep it in mind before you decide or embark on a new path that may dig deeply into the time you have to live your life.

So, your question to ask is this: How much am I and my family willing to put into becoming a SharePoint professional, and to what extent to I need or want returns on that investment.

What’s Next?

From a reader suggestion, I’m going to make the next article be about architects. As I mentioned in the first article of this series, architects are a somewhat ambiguous and not very well understood title (as is the case of many titles). I’ll try to clear up some of the misconceptions, and bring at least my interpretation to the mix 🙂

Don’t forget to keep comments flowing, I’m trying to pick up on suggestions and incorporate those into the series.

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