Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Advice to Google: Imitate the RIGHT parts of Sharepoint

I just know Google's engineers are avidly reading this blog ...

Alas, I have some Microsoft readers on my tech blog, but I don't think I have any Google readers on any of my blogs. Sniff.

Their great loss, because they'll miss this free tip.

Google Apps are improving, especially with the addition of Google Sites.

Alas, many of the new features feel like a reinvention of the more obvious features of Microsoft Sharepoint.

So Google Apps has Sharepoint-like (crappy) document management; in Sharepoint you can manage Office documents, in Google Apps you can manage native Google App documents. In both cases any non-native files are third class citizens.

Google Apps also has clever widgets for inserting Calendars and the like, just like Sharepoint. Google Apps doesn't have a blogging tool (odd omission, you can't really integrate Blogger) yet, but they have a Sharepoint-like Wiki in Google Sites. Google Apps has Feeds and Alerts like Sharepoint, albeit not quite as well done.


Google's engineers are imitating the obvious, inescapable, features of Sharepoint. It's almost like they're running down a checklist.

Except the person who did the checklist didn't really understand that buried in the dross of Sharepoint is a certain secret brilliance.

Somehow they've missed that Sharepoint gently leads users to start representing data in an insidiously user friendly database model with a very user-friendly set of data types including hyperlinks, lookups that link to the reference row, web 1.0 and excel-like grid data entry models, multiple Views with a simple (too limited) GUI for reusing and extending Views, and more...
Lessons from Microsoft SharePoint

...I'm told the implementation is more peculiar than this, but to a first approximation SharePoint can be considered as a thin client toolkit for creating and manipulating SQLServer tables. Microsoft Access will link to them, and read and write to the linked tables. You can do some simple lookups from one table to anohter (scope is site limited). You can revise and extend tables quite readily, building on your data model as needed. There's a quite good web GUI for user views of the data, and a somewhat powerful but semi-broken Excel like datasheet view for quick editing.

Whereas the document management system feels like it was hurled out a window to meet a deadline, the list facilities feel like someone thought very hard about how they might work...
Everything is laid out in Sharepoint for observant eyes to see. There's nothing in this design that outside the everyday functions Google implements now. Sure, there may be a few software patents around Microsoft's work (there should be), but that's what lawyers are for. I suspect most of it has prior art, and the rest can be worked around or fought in court. (It's the combination that's clever.)

If a Google engineer were to read this, then spend two weeks playing around with Sharepoint lists, extending calendars, extending the Gantt widget, implementing project plans, creating lookups, and so on the light would go on.

Google Apps could replicate this.

Google Apps could also stop imitating the stupid parts of Sharepoint and provide true file management, but I'm beginning to think there's something impossible about that.

I'll settle for intelligent imitation instead.


Try80 said...

Oh man, I can't agree with you more! I've been so frustrated that NOBODY has got on-board with this feature-train yet.

Does anybody know of any way to get these features without sharepoint?

Jake Rana said...

You might want to look at this good comparison between Google Apps and SharePoint Online.