It’s always fun in the blog-o-sphere and SharePoint bloggers always keep the pot boiling. Bjorn Furuknap recently posted a blog entry titled Why Out-of-the-Box Makes No Sense in SharePoint, quickly followed up by a rebuttal by Marc Anderson on his blog. Okay, now that we have all the players and the stage what’s the big deal?
Bjorn started his post saying that you don’t use “out-of-the-box” (OOTB) SharePoint because it makes no sense. I have to disagree with his premise because what he calls OOTB is basically installing SharePoint and admiring it, but not using it. In his post he lays claim that modifying say the OOTB contacts list by removing (or I suppose adding) a column, now puts you in a situation where you’re no longer using the OOTB functionality. Really?
Side note. Dear Internet, please stop comparing building software to building houses. Or comparing software architecture to building architecture. Or comparing web sites to making dinner. Are you trying to dumb down something so the general masses understand it? Comparing a technical skill to a construction operation isn’t the way to do this. Last time I checked, most people don’t know how to build houses and last time I checked people reading technical SharePoint blogs are generally technical people that understand the terms you use. Putting metaphors around software development to make it easy to understand is detrimental to the goal. </rant>
Okay, where were we? Right, adding columns to lists means you are no longer using the OOTB functionality. Yeah, I still don’t get it.
Another statement Bjorn makes is that using the OOTB functionality kills the flexibility SharePoint has in creating exactly what you want. IMHO this really flies in the absolute face of where SharePoint really shines.
For the past year or so I’ve been leaning more and more towards OOTB solutions over custom development for the simple reason that its expensive to maintain systems and code and assets. SharePoint has enabled me to do this simply by providing the tools where I can give users what they need without cracking open up Visual Studio. This might be the fact that my day job is with a regulated company and there’s more scrutiny with spending money on anything new, but frankly that should be the position of any responsible developer, architect, manager, or PM. Do you really want to throw money away because some developer tells you that you need a custom web part when perhaps with some creative thinking or expectation setting with customers you can meet the need with what you already have.
The way I read Bjorn’s terminology of “out-of-the-box” is install the software and tell people to go to a website and admire the OOTB system, but don’t change it! For those that know things like WordPress, DotNetNuke, SubText, Drupal or any of those content management/blogging systems, its akin to installing the software and setting up the “Hello World” blog post or page, then staring at it like it’s useful. “Yes, we are using WordPress!”. Then not adding a new post, creating a new category, or adding an About page. Perhaps I’m wrong in my interpretation.
This leads us to what is OOTB SharePoint? To many people I’ve talked to the last few hours on twitter, email, etc. it is not just installing software but actually using it as it was fit for purpose. What’s the purpose of SharePoint then? It has many purposes, but using the OOTB templates Microsoft has given you the ability to collaborate on projects, author/share/publish documents, create pages, track items/contacts/tasks/etc. in a multi-user web based interface, and so on.
Microsoft has pretty clear definitions of these different levels of SharePoint we’re talking about and I think it’s important for everyone to know what they are and what they mean.
Personalization and Administration
To me, this is the OOTB experience. You install the product and then are able to do things like create new lists, sites, edit and personalize pages, create new views, etc. Basically use the platform services available to you with Windows SharePoint Services (or SharePoint Foundation in 2010) to your full advantage. No code, no special tools needed, and very little user training required. Could you take someone who has never done anything in a website or piece of software and unleash them onto a site? Probably not. However I would argue that anyone who’s configured the Outlook reading layout or applied styles to a Word document probably won’t have too much difficulty in using SharePoint OUT OF THE BOX.
Here’s were the propeller hats come on and we’re talking algorithms and unit tests and compilers oh my. Software is deployed to the server, people are writing solutions after some kind of training (perhaps), there might be some specialized tools they use to craft and deploy the solutions, there’s the possibility of exceptions being thrown, etc. There are a lot of definitions here and just like customization it might get murky (do you let non-developers build solutions using development, i.e. jQuery/C#?).
In my experience, it’s much more cost effective keeping solutions under the first two umbrellas than leaping into the third one. Arguably you could say that you can’t build useful solutions without some kind of code (even just some simple jQuery). I think you can get a lot of value just from using the OOTB experience and I don’t think you’re constraining your users that much.
I’m not saying Marc or Bjorn are wrong. Like Obi-Wan stated, they’re both correct “from a certain point of view”. To me, SharePoint Out of the Box makes total sense and should not be dismissed. I just don’t agree with the premise that Bjorn is basing his statements on but that’s just my opinion and his is different and never the twain shall meet.