As SharePoint matures as a product, and more so a platform, many of us out there are looking towards the future, wondering where SharePoint is heading, especially as vNext approaches. I thought I’d put together a list of the kind of topics that have interested me lately, in areas that I believe are indicative of where the product is headed.

Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS)
I remember having discussions nearly a decade ago about the merits of shrink-wrapped products vs. pay-as-you-go services. That was at the time when people were just starting to shell out several dollars a month for music subscriptions and the like. It was about this same time that I remember Bill Gates start peddling web services as the future of the Internet.

Fast forward ten years and we see Microsoft beginning a big push in that direction with the Business Productivity Online Suite. Although Online Services have not gained much noteriaty yet, I believe they will become increasingly the way that customers consume their products. This makes sense from Microsoft’s end, since an on-going revenue stream is superior to a one-and-one software license purchase. That being the case, I believe we’ll see more and more marketing for BPOS, and as a result, more and more customers using it.

To get an overview, take a look at microsoft.com/online. I actually interviewed for an evangelist position with Microsoft in Redmond about 3 years ago. The job was to specifically get ISV’s interested in building add-on products to the Online Suite. Microsoft accurately understands that the more companies are hinging their future on the Online Services, the more the offering will be sold, and therefore entrenched, in various businesses. You can see the result of this sort of push here, on their Partner Showcase page.

For those who are Partners, Microsoft has set aside a whole portal page with learning materials at discoveronlineservices.com.

Application Lifecycle Management
For a while, since SharePoint 2007 was so new, no one had actually lived through a whole lifecycle of the product (except those poor souls who had had to upgrade from 2003, but that’s still different than managing the lifecycle of a single prouct, since 2007 might has well have been a different product.) To those out there who have several year old implementations, and those of us who have to support those applications, it has become apparent that standard development practices need to be taken into account when custom code is being developed for SharePoint, even though coding against SharePoint is slightly different than developing a standard .NET app.

Microsoft has set up a whole portal on MSDN dedicated to it, which you can visit here: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/office/cc990283.aspx. Along those lines, I see that Andrew Woodward has published a nice slide deck about Test Driven Development in SharePoint, which was presumably for the Best Practices conference.

Silverlight
I have to admit, I’ve been very skeptical about Silverlight. After all, you’ve been able to program Flash using .NET languages for years (eons, it feels like.) So why is Silverlight any different? Well, as I’m beginning to see, the difference is that Flash is owned by a Design company and Silverlight is owned by a Productivity company. That is to say, Flash has rarely lived down its name, in the sense that it has only occasionally been put to use for more than whiz-bang visual presentations, whereas I believe Silverlight will increasingly become the Ajax-enabled front-end for web functionality. Furthermore, XAML falls in line with the growing trend of producing markup-driven presentation layers, such as HTML and Windows Presentation Foundation markup. The idea is that, like Flash development, a designer can easily create a nice front-end, without knowing anything about programming, while the back-end developer can code the functionality.

Business Intelligence
Microsoft recently announced that Performance Point will essentially be part of SharePoint in the next release. Why do I think getting into the BI sector is good? Simple: when you’re selling a project to a client, who signs the check? Usually it’s not the web master or the IT admin… it’s the CIO or CFO. Often, these are people more concerned with the business’s overall goals than with servers. When an executive sees the creation of reports that they personally use, they’re much more likely to see the positive impact to their business than if you try to convince them they need more server racks. I’m not trying to be crass, but to explain that “There’s power in that there BI integration.” Make the most of it. (Read the bottom of the announcement article to see links for learning more about the SharePoint BI products.

For those who are Microsoft Partners, 6 web casts have been posted that will prepare you for Exam 70-452: Designing a Business Intelligence Infrastructure Using Microsoft SQL Server 2008.

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