5 Ways SharePoint Changed the Rules of Web Development

“Changing the look and feel of an out of the box SharePoint site is just like customizing a regular website, right?”
“Changing the look and feel of an out of the box SharePoint site is just like customizing a regular website, right?” insisted a self-appointed web development guru that I had the pleasure of interacting with in a recent SharePoint implementation project. “Unfortunately, it’s not the same. You are comparing apples and dragonfruit (if you haven’t tried this fruit you have too!), my friend.” I responded.

Dragon Fruit

I’m sure you haven’t experienced this, no? What I have found is that a lot of people wrongfully assume that SharePoint is like any other web technology out there. It is true that SharePoint is mostly a web-based platform, however, SharePoint shifts the paradigm in how web-based solutions are developed.

Here are 5 ways on how SharePoint changed the rules of web development:

  1. It’s all about empowerment, baby.

    If you were to build a website intended for collaboration, you might include features like a user login, discussion board, group calendar, downloads section, wiki, search or even a content management system. Traditionally, this would have taken a web developer between 1 week to 3 months depending on the skill set and technology used. Lacking the necessary technical skill set, a typical business user or end user in an organization will not be able to build this.

    With SharePoint, you can build a similar collaborative site with an out of the box template. More importantly, anyone can build this site as long as you are familiar with fundamental Windows, Microsoft Office and web browsing concepts. That’s the value proposition: Minimal skill set is required to create such a web-based collaboration solution. The IT/IS department’s involvement can be minimal to none.

    Here’s a video demonstration of how SharePoint can empower users:

  2. Drastically changing the look and feel is like getting a plastic surgery.

    Have you seen the TV Show Dr. 90210? While aimlessly flipping channels (yeah, right Dux), I came across an episode where Dr. Rey was performing a complicated facial surgery of someone who wanted to look like a well known celebrity. I was thinking, “Boy, I sure can’t do that. It takes a lot of skills and expertise to be successful in making that face look like the well known celebrity.”

    In a typical web development project, creating the look and feel of a site is easier than developing site functionalities such as user login, search, database integration, etc.

    With SharePoint, it is flipped. Defining site functionalities is easier than drastically changing the look and feel of a site. Simple interface tweaks such as changing logos or colors is straightforward (like this example). However, redefining the overall branding of a SharePoint site can be very difficult (check out Hawaiian Air’s website powered by SharePoint). You have to be well versed not only in HTML and CSS, you must be able to work with Master Pages, XSLT, 12 hive and in some cases CAML. In short, a typical business user or end user will not be able to make such drastic interface changes. Skills and expertise to the level of Dr. 90210 is necessary.

    Realize that SharePoint was intended to facilitate better collaboration and NOT as a competition to the most aesthetically pleasing web technology out there.

    As you rollout SharePoint, changing the look and feel should not be the top priority unless it’s REALLY necessary.

  3. Native SharePoint data is stored in SQL Server (yes, it includes Office documents).

    Native files and content in SharePoint are not stored in the physical directory c:\inetpub\wwwroot. Almost all (there are a few exceptions like files in the 12 hive) SharePoint content which include templates, sites, lists, libraries, user management, videos, office documents, mp3s, etc. are stored in SQL Server. Yes, you read it right, the actual file is in the database, not a reference to where it is located physically.

    Does that mean if I have data in other repositories such as Oracle, MySQL, FoxPro, or XML files I would need to migrate it over to SQL Server? No not at all, the beauty with SharePoint is that you can interact with industry standard datasources without moving it over. And when I say interact, not only can you display data from external sources in SharePoint, you can add, update and even delete external datasources as well.

    Similar to #1, it is possible to integrate external data sources without coding. Very empowering. Tools like Business Data Catalog , SharePoint Designer or third-party products like MashPoint makes this code free data integration possible.

  4. Say goodbye to FTPUsing File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is so nineties. With SharePoint, you will rarely be utilizing this technology at all.

    With that being said, there is a huge implication on how tiered SharePoint environments are set up. Read this interesting discussion about migrating data in a multi-tiered SharePoint environment.

  5. Seamless integration with Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007This, my friend, seals the deal for me. How many web sites have you been to where you can synchronize calendar information with MS Outlook? Or maybe upload a document to a website directly from MS Word without using the web browser?

    Watch this video and you’ll see what I am talking about:

In the end, it is important to stress that deploying SharePoint is NOT the same as deploying a typical web application. Once this expectation is set, then you are not boxing SharePoint with the limitations of traditional web technology but highlight the business value it brings: Deploy web applications faster, facilitate better collaboration and reduce the IT bottleneck challenges.
Peter Cincotti’s song “I Changed the Rules” appropriately describes how SharePoint changed the rules:

Don’t keep on asking where I’ve been
I’m not some guy you discipline
Stop that crying
No use justifying
Baby, I changed the rules.

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