Microsoft’s latest suite of business products mark the start of a dramatic shift towards more informal user interfaces.
The newly released Microsoft Sharepoint 2010 has integrated a number of interesting new functions such as Instant Messaging (IM), voice over IP (voIP) and live content streaming.
The Facebook-esque new MySite feature is especially reminiscent of social networking.
The web-based feature allows users to share their profile with other users within the network, automatically taking information from content that that user creates to make tag clouds of commonly-used keywords.
In a turnaround from Microsoft's usual exclusive web browser policies, MySite will be viewable through various browsers, including Firefox and Opera and can be further connected to display status updates from traditional social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn.
Microsoft Australia spokesperson, Oscar Trimboli, said that the reason behind the shift was the increase of “digital natives", people who grew up with computers, in the workforce, creating a demand for document in an enterprise to be as readily available as information on the internet.
Indeed, Corrs Chambers Westgarth chief information officer and Microsoft customer, Jon Kenton, said that he was quite excited about using the software's social collaboration aspects to keep tabs on aspects of human resources.
However, the shift towards the use of social networking tools within an enterprise environment, raises issues as to how much an employee's privacy can be violated with an organisation's use of these new features.
Although Microsoft does provide a few basic tools for the filtering of content from and to these sites, Trimboli said that the issue of protection of privacy was ultimately up to the end user and the organisation.
"The user ultimately controls with their own login to their own social network what information they expose to the organisation or to their other contacts and that's really reliant on the controls within that social network itself." Trimboli said.
Facebook recently used the same argument to protect themselves against privacy violation accusations with little to no success.
Then, there's the issue of using the social network as a means of work avoidance.
Kenton said that he was not concerned about his employees using the network to goof off during work, provided that they got their work done at the end of the day.
"I'm sadly old enough to remember the conversations around not giving employees Internet because they would just be on the Internet all day." Kenton said, "Even going to work, someone can distract themselves - whether it's at the water cooler, the coffee machine or so on. I think it all comes down to making sure you've got a motivated staff, correct supervision over them and making sure that they're getting their job done."
That being said, Corrs Chambers Westgarth is still in early implementation stages of the Sharepoint software and the effects (if any) of Microsoft's new social networking shift will probably reveal themselves over time.
Microsoft will be releasing the consumer version of its new software packages on 15 June 2010.