SharePoint growth drives improvements

Microsoft touted SharePoint growth and some new capabilities at the annual conference in Seattle on Monday.

SharePoint is the fastest-growing server product Microsoft has ever had, Chairman Bill Gates told attendees at the annual SharePoint conference in Seattle on Monday.

That growth is driving enhancements to the product, as well as improvements in customer support, the company said. "Attendance here is a symptom of the broad success SharePoint is having," Gates said to a crowd significantly larger than the one assembled at the conference last year. The company expects to have sold 100 million licenses by July this year, he said.

To help support those users, Microsoft has doubled the number of staff working on SharePoint customer support and plans to double it again in the next six months, said Kurt DelBene, a senior vice president at Microsoft. It is also increasing the number of Microsoft consultants available to help customers implement SharePoint and expanding programs to help potential users figure out how to justify the investment, design the implementation, roll it out and train users, he said. A new Web site is designed to help users and potential users.

SharePoint users will get a couple of new features too. Those who want to build nicer-looking internal sites on SharePoint will find it easier to use Silverlight to do so. Silverlight Blueprint for SharePoint, launched on Monday, is designed to offer some sample code and other support for customers who want to wrap a Silverlight component into their SharePoint pages.

Enterprises that use SharePoint will also be able to employ a free enterprise search product from Microsoft starting on Tuesday. Search Server Express 2008 was announced late last year and is now available.

Even though growth for SharePoint has been good, Microsoft's larger ambition is for the functionality it offers to become available to all workers. Gates compared Microsoft's goals for SharePoint to the company's efforts to encourage more workers in organizations to use Office products. It used to be that IT would allow only certain workers to use Word or Excel. But once Microsoft packaged Word, Excel and PowerPoint into Office, it became a given that if one worker sent a PowerPoint presentation in e-mail, a recipient in the company would be able to view it, Gates said. Microsoft's goal is for workers to take it for granted that they can easily create an internal collaboration site using SharePoint, he said.

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