Recently, CIO.com posted an article titled “Why Microsoft SharePoint Faces a Challenging Future”, questioning Microsoft’s strategy around their SharePoint offering for moving toward Office 365 and the Cloud, as well as moving toward HTML5/JS – despite the fact that these are common industry trends. Further, it calls Microsoft’s future “murky” and “less rosy” than the success they have enjoyed to this point. I struggle with this article for a number of reasons, as it largely misses the mark on some key topics. While we can appreciate the author’s perspective on the risk of alienating a loyal developer base, that assessment is far too myopic when considering overall industry trends as a whole. One could even argue that when you look into the future of technology – depending on how far you look – the future is always murky to some degree.
Start with a Simple Analogy
Imagine you are a large auto manufacturer. This cool thing called the hybrid comes along, combining battery and gasoline to power an engine. These cars are delivering unbelievable gas mileage (and gas prices have doubled in 5 years), and are becoming commercially viable. Most of your competitors are going down this path and having success. One of your competitors is even proving out the ability to eliminate gas entirely, and their shareholders are being rewarded for it. Battery power is clearly a potential future solution. If you are the CEO of this company, would you at least explore this technology and throw your hat in the ring? Or would you say, no, let’s stick with what we are doing?
While this analogy is very general and must be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, it underscores the importance of paying attention to industry trends. The author is suggesting that Microsoft largely ignore these new technologies (Cloud, more powerful front-end code languages) that the entire industry is chasing, and instead stick with their old model (on premises, pure C#, and ASP.NET). Microsoft is not ditching the old, but they are at least exploring the new.
We’ve Seen This Story Before
The software industry graveyard is littered with companies that refused to adapt their solutions to new technologies, and ignored trends. No one is suggesting Microsoft completely abandon the old – and they aren’t. But they better be able to shift to the new in the event that it becomes the new standard. Because if they don’t, and cloud DOES become the de facto standard, the number of angry customers will be logarithmically higher than that of current customers who may be unhappy that Microsoft has started to shift. The irony is that Microsoft has been burned in the past (and rightfully criticized) for taking the exact approach the author is suggesting they should. The mere fact that Microsoft is going a different route now is quite frankly forward-thinking – or at least “current thinking” – more so than we have seen coming out of Redmond in the past.
So What About the Developers?
Another interesting bit in the article states, “there’s no consistency to the guidance given to developers”. The author is referring to the SharePoint 2013 App Model, and definitely missed the mark here. The App Model wasn’t intended to guide developers toward a particular development process; rather, it was architected so they have an enormous amount of flexibility and can work in the language they are most familiar with. Aligning SharePoint with the open development standards of the “web”, if anything, will reduce the barriers to entry in the SharePoint development space. And in strategy vernacular, reducing barriers to entry just adds to the supply of talent – something that only benefits Microsoft’s SharePoint platform.
Wait, Doesn’t That Commoditize My Job?
What is Microsoft promoting for Windows 8 Development? HTML5/JS.
What is Microsoft promoting for Windows Phone App development? HTML5/JS.
What is Microsoft promoting for Office Client development? You guessed it – HTML5/JS.
Microsoft did not miss the ball on this. And if you’re a C# developer without HTML5/JS skills, then be prepared to live the life of a COBOL/RPG developer. What is worse than developers being upset about a platform and technology is to not be relevant to them at all. In our opinion, any developer who isn’t willing to continue learning and changing with the latest technologies and trends may have picked the wrong profession.