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Microsoft and Enterprise Web 2.0

The beta release of Microsoft's Windows Live Writer created some noise this past week in the blogosphere.  This is a PC tool that helps the blogger write, post, and manage a blog. And, to be honest, I like it. But I must be suffering from a case of déjà vu. Didn't we recently hear of another product from Microsoft that does this?

With the growing interest in using Web 2.0 on corporate intranets, I expect the release of Windows Live Writer caught the eye of many intranet strategists. The product plays well with existing blog publishing standards, supporting several APIs; Blogger, Movable Type, and MetaWeblog. These APIs have been around for awhile and are based on the web services standard XML-RPC.

About a year ago I looked into this market and found few good tools that used these APIs. That changed when Performancing for Firefox was released late last year and quickly became popular. Based on my brief use of the product, Live Writer will provide some stiff competition for Performancing. In fact, Chris Garret of Performancing recently gave a relatively favorable review of Live Writer.

Back in May Microsoft's Joe Friend announced on his blog that Word 2007 will have blog editing capabilities, just like Live Writer and Performancing. Given the number of people who regularly use Word adding this seems to make sense. But as an Office 2003 user the release of Live Writer may have given me another reason not to upgrade my Office software. Well, I'm sure Microsoft's marketing people have this all figured out. Maybe they think Live Writer isn't targeted at the Word user, just the blogger?

But…wait…aren't we trying to get intranet users to blog? Isn't that why Word 2007 will have this new feature? Besides, SharePoint will now provide blogs and wikis, right? But, let's backup for a minute. Just what is Microsoft's enterprise Web 2.0 strategy? Is it SharePoint or is it Windows Live?

Back in May I blogged about the SharePoint Conference 2006. What impresses me most about the next generation of SharePoint is how it is architected. The "free" Windows SharePoint Services (WSS, bundled with the Windows Server 2003 operating system) provides fundamental building blocks; lists, content types, workflows, templates, site columns, etc. Companies can use WSS to create simple websites and applications for teams and organizations. As their use grows they can upgrade to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007) and add more sophisticated capabilities to their intranet.

The architecture for MOSS provides for large-scale aggregation of information across all WSS sites. In addition, the corporate intranet can add a new MOSS feature (such as Search or Excel Services) by simply adding servers that provide the feature to all sites within the Shared Services Providers (SSP) architecture. SSP is the secret technology sauce of MOSS that allows new features to be added simply and affordably.

In my opinion SharePoint is clearly capable of being a robust platform for Web 2.0 applications on the intranet (and the Internet, for that matter).   It is extremely scalable. For one thing, MOSS is replacing Microsoft's current Internet website management tool CMS. In addition, it has the capability to manage meta-data for all sorts of information across an entire intranet. Management of this meta-data is what will separate, for example, a standard blog from an enterprise blog ecosystem. The Internet has services like Technorati to help categorize blog postings. This type of service doesn't exist on intranets. So how do you organize the content of thousands of blogs or wikis? SharePoint has the capability to easily meet this need.

However, Microsoft doesn't seem to think of SharePoint as a Web 2.0 solution. At least, that doesn't yet come through in their marketing and actions. During the SharePoint Conference, Web 2.0 technologies were not mentioned very often, if at all. Without a doubt, this was a conference for the Office crowd. OK, Knowledge Network (the social networking add-on to MOSS) looks very cool. But this is the exception. The blog and wiki templates  provided for WSS but are extremely simple implementations. Upgrading to MOSS doesn't help much with aggregating this content since it provides no additional out-of-the-box blog or wiki capability and doesn't approach an enterprise blog ecosystem without significant effort.

To me SharePoint will pass the Web 2.0 test when Microsoft bloggers start using it to host their own Internet blogs. Today most Microsoft blogs are hosted on MSDN (which uses Community Server) or Live Spaces. So the day MSDN switches to SharePoint as their platform is the day many companies can stop looking for an enterprise Web 2.0 platform. Unless, of course, Windows Live Enterprise Spaces isn't launched in the meantime. Of course, I am speaking tongue-in-cheek, but you never know...

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