Microsoft Wants to Make SharePoint More Likable

May 4, 2016, 2:23 PM UTC
Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott talks artificial intelligence and mixed reality.
Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott talks artificial intelligence and mixed reality.
Photograph by Bloomberg via Getty Images

SharePoint is a great example of Microsoft’s strengths and weaknesses.

The venerable file storage and collaboration product, which launched 15 years ago, is sort of a Swiss Army Knife in that it does a bunch of stuff. It lets users collaborate on those files, stores and synchronizes group work files, and it does some document management. That’s good news for those who care to sort through all those features and functions in order to figure out what’s right for them.

But it’s also a flaw in that many people don’t have the time or inclination to do that. For them, SharePoint can be an underused piece of software. SharePoint—to steal a term that former Sun Microsystems chief executive (and Microsoft rival) Scott McNealy used to describe Microsoft Windows—can be a bit of a “hairball.”

On the flip side of Microsoft claims more than 200 million SharePoint users and for many organizations, the product acts as their mission-critical corporate intranet, according to Constellation Research analyst Alan Lepofsky.

Still, companies prefer more focused products, like recent software wunderkind Slack, which offers a sort of real-time, Twitter-like (TWTR) feed for workgroups. Slack is useful mostly because it attacks a specific task and does it well. Despite a long wait for some features to launch, including threaded messages, Slack is also easy to get started on and gets addictive fast.

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Apparently, Microsoft (MSFT) hopes the new release of SharePoint 2016 will remedy SharePoint usage issues by, yes, adding more features, including an integration with the Microsoft Office Graph, according to the Wall Street Journal and the Sharegate blog. The Office Graph aggregates information from Microsoft Office or Office 365 users. That data includes who a given user collaborates with most often on documents, chats with, or corresponds with most frequently.

The goal is to prioritize communications, separating the important from the trivial. It’s a great idea, but execution is key. Microsoft has tried other tools, including Clutter, an automated way to winnow out unimportant email from the rest. Some people (myself included) found Clutter more annoying than the spam it was supposed to reduce, eventually turning it off altogether.

Then there was Office Delve, which helps users find documents and other information from their teams by clicking on team member pictures or other means. Unfortunately for Microsoft, some big companies disabled Delve because it divulged corporate data to a wider-than-anticipated audience, Gartner (IT) analyst Jim Murphy told the Journal.

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While Microsoft is hoping to steer more of its customers to a cloud-delivered version of SharePoint, the company will keep supporting and updating the on-premises version for the foreseeable future, according to ZDNet.

Microsoft will talk more about SharePoint 2016 during its virtual launch event later on Wednesday.

Note: This story was updated at 1:04 p.m. EDT with analyst comments.