Microsoft SharePoint falls short, analyst firm says

SharePoint has difficulties managing Web content and implementing complex forms of navigation

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 does a poor job managing Web content, leading to extraneous JavaScript, difficulties implementing complex forms of navigation, and problems when companies use Web content that needs to be translated into multiple languages, an analyst firm called CMS Watch says in a new report that evaluates content management products.

While SharePoint is great for internal document sharing, some customers are finding it difficult to use the product for Web publishing, says Tony Byrne, founder of CMS Watch.

"There's an expectation in the marketplace that that same simple plug-and-play will also be the case for Web publishing," Byrne says. "What we're seeing is well-meaning companies and well-meaning customers trying to use MOSS 2007 for their public-facing Web sites and running into all sorts of problems. ... You need an experienced developer and you have to do a lot of configuration."

Byrne likens his organization to Consumer Reports, and says it maintains a vendor-neutral stance by refusing to take money from vendors. Released this week, "The Web CMS Report" evaluates 30 vendors of content management systems based on product evaluations and interviews with customers.

A Microsoft SharePoint group product manager calls some of CMS Watch's criticisms inaccurate and misleading. The analyst firm, for example, says "MOSS natively generates non-standard HTML code with extraneous JavaScript and table-based layouts, which is problematic for enterprises wanting to employ standards-based design and code conventions. Licensees must pro-actively strip this extra code from their own websites."

Arpan Shah, the Microsoft product manager, says the extra JavaScript is good for mixing Web content and collaboration. Not all of it is necessary for a pure publishing site, he says, but for those cases Microsoft provides an option for creating a "minimal master page" that allows Web site designers to create custom page layouts.

"You don't need all that JavaScript," he says. "You can start from that minimal base and create your own page layout."

CMS Watch also criticizes MOSS 2007 for its navigation structure, which is based on browsing directories composed of documents, Byrne says. But Web sites often need more complex forms of navigation, and "to do that you have to turn off the basic navigation controls of SharePoint and get a developer to go into the innards and replace it," Byrne says. "Like many things, there's not a lot of guidance from Microsoft on how to do that."

Shah says SharePoint's out-of-the-box version provides navigation based on a Web site's hierarchy, or directory, and allows developers to make changes such as adding links and reordering them without writing any code. If they want to make more complex changes, they would have to write their own code, he says.

"We provide a really good out-of-the-box solution, but there's flexibility for people to build their own controls," he says.

Byrne also criticizes SharePoint for having a "simplistic object mode" that makes it difficult to work in global settings where content must be translated, such as an intranet used by a company based in multiple countries.

While SharePoint itself does not translate text, Shah defended the product's capability of supporting workflows based on translation. For example, if an international company posts press releases on a public Web site in English, and wants those releases automatically translated into French and German and posted on Web sites in those languages, SharePoint makes that happen, he says.

"We support multilingual Web sites by providing a feature we call 'variations' to help orchestrate the process of maintaining different versions in different languages," Shah says. CMS Watch divided vendors into a variety of categories. MOSS 2007 was labeled "mid-market mainstream" alongside products from vendors such as Ektron, Escenic , Ingeniux and PaperThin.

At US$41,000 per server, MOSS 2007 is the most expensive in that group. Pricing for PaperThin's products, for example,start at US$20,000 per server. MOSS 2007 also requires more in-house work than the others, which tend to be ready to go out of the box, he says.

CMS Watch also evaluated enterprise-class Web content management products from vendors including EMC's Documentum, IBM, Interwoven, and Oracle's Stellent.

Highlights from the evaluations include:

-- Documentum Web Publisher 5.3 has deep institutional experience in heavily regulated industries like pharmaceuticals, chemicals and healthcare. Its user interfaces lag behind competitors, and the company is focused on lucrative document-management technology and has not put the same effort into its Web content-management lineup.

-- IBM's Workplace Web Content Management 6.0 covers all the basics, has excellent taxonomy and metadata facilities well-suited for complex needs, and is helpful for companies that need broadly localized content-management systems out of the box. Downsides include weak repository services, underdeveloped features, the user interface and performance problems in the version for Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition middleware.

-- Interwoven's TeamSite 6.7 connects well to other vendors' applications, commerce and portal servers, and is good for customers with complex approval and testing requirements. The product historically has had performance shortcomings, has weak asset management and is expensive in large installations because of per-user fees.

-- Oracle's Universal Content Management 7.7 is one of the first products from a major vendor to offer wikis, blogs and site management, and the product is easy to customize. But its integration with portal products is less straightforward than competitors, and the multisite manager does not emphasize content reuse.

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