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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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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