We recently caught up with Microsoft Exchange Server and SharePoint expert J. Peter Bruzzese to hear his thoughts on SharePoint 2010's affect on Exchange users. In this interview, Bruzzese highlights SharePoint features that will help Outlook users, discusses how Exchange administrators can benefit from the release and explains which SharePoint features he thinks need improvement.
SearchExchange.com: Can you explain some new features in SharePoint 2010 that will help Exchange and Outlook users?
J. Peter Bruzzese: I like SharePoint 2007, but the new edition, SharePoint 2010, hits all of the different pain points that I had with 2007. The product has really been enhanced and enhances the way Outlook users connect in with some of their data. There's a variety of different features that have improved… some of the content management features, like managed meta data and spots where you can tag various aspects of data.
All of that [data] gets pulled into better social connectivity experiences. There's this new Social Connector in Outlook 2010. I'm actually not a huge fan of the Social Connector because it makes promises that you're going to be able to connect with a lot of other sites like Facebook or LinkedIn. You can connect with them, but it's a long and drawn-out process. All the connectors are not built yet, so I'm not too thrilled with that aspect of it.
I think it should have just been called the "SharePoint Connector" because that's where it shines -- when connecting into SharePoint 2010. This allows users a better social experience with others in the company. You might think of it as not only a connection to data that you have in Exchange, but also to stuff that's happening in SharePoint. You'll be able to see what users you're connected to have posted, what they've tagged and it will be put in a little pane in your Outlook. So, there's a much better connection between the Outlook user, the Exchange server and the SharePoint server that I really think will benefit users as they get more comfortable with it.
SearchExchange.com: And how about features that might help admins?
Bruzzese: From an administrative perspective, Exchange makes sense. If you've worked with Exchange before, even the new versions of Exchange with the Exchange Management Console (EMC) and the Exchange Management Shell (EMS), it makes sense. But SharePoint is a different animal.
In SharePoint 2007, you know you're working with a Web services side to things; that had administrators a bit confused. How do you add Web parts? How do you build out sites? Some administrators thought "I'll just install the thing and I'll let someone else worry about how to put the site together."And that actually worked out fine. What's nice about SharePoint 2010 is that it makes it a little bit easier, a little bit friendlier for administrators to start feeling comfortable with establishing permissions on various document lists, setting up some of the workflow features with the document list and library.
SharePoint 2010 makes things a lot easier for administrators. I think that's important if you're going to have more administrators handling both Exchange and SharePoint. And [that's because] there is a connection between the two. In the near future, Exchange will drop support for public folders, and they're hoping public folders will be pushed aside in favor of SharePoint. You have a lot of Exchange administrators looking at SharePoint as that replacement. The more comfortable they feel, the better it will be in terms of integrating the two together.
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SearchExchange.com: Do you think there are any specific areas that Microsoft missed the boat on with SharePoint? Or did you feel there were any features that could have been improved that weren't?
Bruzzese: To be honest with you, I think they hit pretty much everything in SharePoint that I would have recommended. In working with SharePoint 2007, you find these little pain points where you say "Wow, I wish [Microsoft] would fix this," or "I wish they would make the backup processor better," or "I wish they would make the overall look of it a little less clunky and make it a little more polished." In SharePoint 2010, Microsoft includes a ribbon interface, which I like.
I know a lot of people don't like the ribbon, but I think the ribbon is a smart move and now it's included within the tools you use to manage SharePoint. Microsoft also improved search features, business intelligence features and site-editing features.
But here's where I think they kind of missed the boat in the Exchange sense. As I mentioned, public folders are going to be done away with. You have administrators looking at SharePoint as the replacement. How's that going? In my opinion, not very well. I don't think SharePoint hits all of the necessary features to replace public folders.
There's some great stuff with SharePoint that you don't have with public folders. You have the workflow; you have content approval. But the migration process from public folders over to SharePoint, that's been missed. You can go to third-party utilities to help you with the migration, but the migration tools are not included and they're not easy to work with within the Exchange/SharePoint structure at this point.
I don't think it's a smooth transition for users either. Users are used to working with their public folders; if you completely overhaul that way of doing things, it requires training. I don't think that was a smart move. I had hoped SharePoint 2010 would make that a little easier. They have certainly enhanced the product, but I'd like to see the public folder side hit a little differently.
SearchExchange.com: How do you think SharePoint 2010 and Exchange integration will ultimately benefit companies?
Bruzzese: That's a good question. Ultimately, the best way for companies to see the benefit from the two is to look at Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) solution. This is a real nice solution where you've got Exchange, SharePoint and a few other tools combined together.
Personally, I've been working with this for several different companies that needed a smaller solution. They didn't necessarily need Exchange deployed in-house, and they only needed Exchange. Microsoft BPOS offered the SharePoint side as well. You'd be amazed at how nice it is to have your Exchange side, have your email and also have Outlook connect into the SharePoint side and be able to update various lists, announcements and social events.
Currently, BPOS is still working off of SharePoint 2007, but soon Microsoft will go to [SharePoint] 2010; I think the connection will be even stronger between the two. I really see this as being valuable to businesses, whether they go with an on-premise or cloud solution; it's going to work well for companies to utilize them together.
SearchExchange.com: Do you think there's anything you'd add or improve in the next version of SharePoint?
Bruzzese: My only concern is this public folder thing. I really would like to see a better connection to what we [currently] have with public folders. I would want it to be easier on users to transition and for administrators to migrate because the process they have now is not smooth. You also want users to see the value in switching as well. You don't want your users to complain. When they see their public folders are missing, that's going to be frustrating.
If you don't have an existing structure with public folders, I recommend never setting them up. Don't get started with them -- even if you're not going to go with SharePoint right away -- you may get into SharePoint in the future.