I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the articles that Steven Sinofsky has written in his book/newsletter “Hardcore Software” about his time at #Microsoft . While Office and Windows understandably have the center role in the story, there are also plenty of insights related to the server software and business applications that are closer to my own journey in the MS ecosystem.
The post “065. SharePoint: Office Builds Our Own Server” is my favorite of all the 100+ posts Steven has written. Nowhere else are the business dynamics of enterprise software in early 2000 illustrated better than this. Reading how SharePoint became a major success despite of it also being a user adoption failure is a lesson that still has plenty of relevance today, even though the cloud/mobile/social revolution that came after the PC revolution has changed most parts of this game.
“SharePoint? That thing I hate.” Bill Gates wasn’t an early fan of the product, referring to it as “yet another place to put files”. Yet he also saw the reasons why in the greater product portfolio SharePoint was critical to MS success - even if it got sold to customers primarily due to the bundling strategy.
Steve Ballmer was the guy who shaped MS to become so focused on enterprise sales. Having SharePoint initially get bought by CIOs, praised by analysts, yet hardly used by any information workers probably wasn’t the ideal outcome he enjoyed seeing. Yet the pragmatic side didn’t let this be seen as a failure. “The winning product is not just a product but the value of the product, distribution, and ecosystem around it.”
There’s a wealth of true passion for improving digital collaboration capabilities that can be read from Sinofsky’s back story on what initially were SharePoint Team Services (STS) and SharePoint Portal Server (SPS). The technological foundation developed 20+ years ago remains a fundamental part of what Microsoft 365 (R.I.P. Office 365 brand) are today.
The success that MS saw via SharePoint and the huge consulting business it generated for partners needed for customizing it weren’t “wrong”. Yet it was bittersweet in many ways, as can be read from Sinofsky’s notes. The sheer size of the market captured isn’t necessarily the most gratifying thing from a product management perspective.
If SharePoint is the example of a product that went big almost on day one, the MS technology that I’ve spent most time on went the opposite way. MS CRM 1.0, by Microsoft Business Solutions, launched exactly 20 years ago. It remained a rounding error in MS earnings for years, yet gradually it evolved to be the foundation of #PowerPlatform that now has 7+ million monthly active low-code developers.
What’s the most popular data source for the low-code apps built by these millions of developers? It is of course SharePoint. 😁