Why, yes it is! Provided, of course, that you use a very specific definition of “Free”, then yes, SharePoint is free.
So why is there so much confusion about the cost of SharePoint? That’s because SharePoint isn’t just SharePoint and because Microsoft is great at getting you to buy their stuff.
The Cost of SharePoint
Let’s start this off by making absolutely 100% certain that SharePoint is free. You can download it today, and you don’t even need to register. Click a link and *poof* a little while later, you have SharePoint, to use as you wish.
So why is there a license price listed on Microsoft’s pages? Why are people paying tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars for SharePoint licenses?
The trick here is that, although SharePoint is free, there are a number of add-on packages that you can buy. The most prominent of these is SharePoint Server, which is a set of extended functions to SharePoint, produced and shipped by Microsoft.
When you see a cost associated with licensing SharePoint, you can be pretty sure that cost is related to SharePoint Server.
The confusion and mix-up probably stems from the fact that Microsoft owns the trademark SharePoint and is the only vendor allowed to call anything “SharePoint”. If I were to build a set of add-ons, I couldn’t call them SharePoint Addons because that would be a breach of trademark. So, the only product that extends SharePoint that can be called SharePoint is Microsoft’s own SharePoint Server.
You don’t need SharePoint Server, though. It doesn’t change SharePoint in any way. In fact, Microsoft is very good at this and follows a very commendable practice: They do, in SharePoint Server, only what anyone else can do as well. They have done it and they charge for it, but you don’t need to buy the functionality from Microsoft, you can build it yourself or get it from another vendor, if you need that functionality at all.
But enough talk about licensing. Even if you can get SharePoint for free doesn’t mean SharePoint is free in all meanings of the word.
Time is Money
A couple of decades ago, a friend noted, during one of our discussions on Linux and Windows, that Linux is free only as long as your time is worthless.
In SharePoint, things do take time, as it does with any software. That time costs someone money, and regardless of whether you use the free version of SharePoint or you pay for an add-on package, it will take time to get to a point where you get real value from SharePoint.
If you just take SharePoint and install it, it will probably take somewhere around 15-30 minutes until you’re ready to go. That doesn’t mean you know how to use it, much less use it effectively. Just like when you install WordPress, you can have WordPress ready to go in 15-20 minutes, but that doesn’t mean you get any value from it.
In order to get SharePoint useful, you need to have an idea of how you want to use it. That requires planning. If you don’t know how to plan it, you need to learn. That requires studying. If you don’t know what to study, you need to do research. By the end of getting a free piece of software to be useful, you’ve spent days, weeks, or months of your life getting to a point where you start getting real value.
Perhaps you want to create a custom business application on top of SharePoint. SharePoint is awesome at that. However, not knowing anything about how SharePoint works, you’re back to the cycle of having to plan, learn, and research, and another few months have passed.
In many situations, it makes far more sense to just buy what someone else has built for you. In some cases, this may very well be what comes in SharePoint Server. The cost of just buying something already made is often lower than investing the time into building it yourself.
But what if you don’t even have a plan and you don’t have or want to spend months learning? Don’t worry, there are solutions to that as well. You can hire a SharePoint professional to help you with all of that, whether that is someone like me who does architecture and development or it is a trainer that can help your users understand and get more out of SharePoint. These people do nothing else but help organizations get value from SharePoint.
What you don’t want to do, though, is hope that free means valuable. You need to learn how to use it or you need to pay someone to help you use it.
So how much does SharePoint cost? That greatly depends on a number of things, but I can guarantee you that you get more out of it than you put in if you do it right.
If you don’t, you’re just throwing money out the window for a free piece of software.
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