"Count what is countable. Measure what is measureable. What is not measureable, make measureable." -- Galileo

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Plone and SharePoint

Before I get down to business, I thought I'd mention Packt's new release, "Choosing an Open Source CMS: A Beginner's Guide" by Nirav Mehta. At first blush, I was a little put off by the self-demeaning subtitle, but upon reading the Packt material more closely, it looks like anyone in the CMS decison-making hierarchy could stand to give this one a read. At the very least, it repeats my mantra of "Requirements, requirements, requirements" as the first step to solving a problem.

However, without having seen the text, I'm a little worried that it is a marketing ploy for WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. The online material specifically calls those three out when it talks about the book having quick-start guides and examples. It would be a pity that a good concept should be ruined by having pre-conceived solutions that fly in the face of their own advice to let requirements drive the CMS decision.

I wonder where Plone will fall in their section on "CMSs by Breed?" Interestingly, in the final chapter apparently they reiterate the results of the last Packt open source CMS award winners. That certainly opens the door for Plone, but a final call will have to wait until I get my hands on a copy.

Meanwhile, on to tonight's topic: SharePoint. At my day-job I continue to see the corporate SharePoint solution spread (more than 1000 sites currently listed internally). The beauty of a corporate SharePoint is that it has no impact on a project's bottem line--its just another cost subsumed in IT overhead.

That makes our skunkworks of a Plone shop expensive by comparison, since we bill our services directly out of someone's program budget. Even so, Plone offers enough advantages over the alternatives that we stay very busy.

I've had my share of anecdotal evidence about how SharePoint and Plone differ on their implementation, but the sparkplug for all this is Bryan Ruby's CMS Report last month entitled "The Problem is Bigger than SharePoint." Bryan's piece put me on to Thomas Vander Wal's post, "SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools." Both are well thought out articles with a healthy dose of comments from all sides of the issue.

What seems to be drawing in customers are a few key capabilities:
  • Online forms. PloneFormGen and the ability to permit anonymous submission of completed forms, for example, workshop registration or non-citizen visit request.
  • Document sharing. Getting the traditional webmaster out of the way so site owners can upload their own content using their own folder hierarchy.
  • Customizable workflow. Special roles for individuals and groups, perhaps for just a particular subset of the portal.
  • Unique content types. Archetypes generated from UML models to handle special use-cases.
  • Versioning. Tracking document revisions really cuts down on e-mail glut.
  • Flexible theming. The ability to skin a site quickly to either the corporate standard or a particular project's own brand.
  • Automatic indexing/full-site search. Need I say more.
  • Broad collection of 3rd party products. The need for questionnaires, surveys, inventories, calendars, wikis, workgroups, and other features are often solved with a product "off-the-shelf."
That's a surprisingly modest list of functions and it seems like SharePoint would do some of these as well as or even better than Plone. But I have to agree with Bryan that SharePoint and many enterprise systems are caught between two worlds and not doing the social collaboration side of the solution well.

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