Toward the end of 2012, I read several messages on Twitter, a few blog entries and even a couple of supportive eNews articles that were talking about how the year had been a turning point for Microsoft. Some were factual, some analytical and at least one proclaimed Microsoft to now be “cool” again. My contribution was to ask the question: “will 2013 be the beginning of the end for SharePoint?” Why so glum? Well, you would have to read that article, but I have a suggestion that would help prevent my question from being answered in the affirmative – make SharePoint simple!
During the course of 2012, I had to work with six different groups outside of the company that I work for. Four of these groups were comprised of business people collaborating, two for short-duration projects and two for the long haul. The others were the two groups of students I mentored at a state university during their senior MIS class. Despite my offering to create a SharePoint for some of those groups, all six chose Box or DropBox for collaboration and for long-term document storage. Not everyone offered a reason, but those who did said that “SharePoint is too complicated.”
Last week, I had an experience with SharePoint that caused me to feel the same way. I was updating our Annual Report, a process that I have managed (and blogged about) on SharePoint for years. This year, it went off the rails. I would select the menu option to “Edit in Microsoft Word,” make my changes and then be slowly driven to frustration when I was unable to check the document back in. If I opted to use my local drafts folder, I was told that “the document is checked out on a different computer.” If I chose not to use the local drafts folder, I was told that the document was checked out to Dan – as if I were someone else. The site where I wasn’t able to work is on our Internet-facing SharePoint server, where it has been for 6 years, and with which our internal domain is trusted. I was able to upload new documents, new versions of existing documents and I was able to check-out, open, edit, save and check-back-in a PDF file, using Acrobat Professional. I could email these documents to myself, and use Harmon.ie to save and check the documents into the server from Outlook. I could even open a document on my iPad with Harmon.ie’s app, edit it in Office HD2, replace it and check it back in – the only way I could not edit and replace the Word document was from within Microsoft Word!
The cause(s) of the problem remain elusive; the work-around was to check the document back in from Word’s File menu, without clicking Save first. I searched the Web on a variety of terms, including “Word cannot save document to SharePoint” (which returned over 2,000,000 results), but I failed to find a definitive solution. Suggestions included the usual suspects, like permissions, which I knew was not the problem and services that either were or weren’t running on either my laptop or the server. I tried all of the suggestions that looked viable, but none solved the problem. The leading contenders for reasonable explanation were a series of responses that point out the difference between “check-out” and “lock”, and attempt to explain the way that Office interacts with SharePoint. The most bizarre was one which alleges that check-in can be affected by where your cursor is within a Word document – I’m serious, you can read that here. It’s ironic that SharePoint would probably be off the hook if it wasn’t for the guilt-by-association with Office.
This experience didn’t make me feel like one of the cool kids. I felt like the geek who can comprehend the nuances of a strange work-around, even though it makes no sense. I’ll take a minute to remind you that this is a process that worked before. I am not sure whether it was the introduction of Windows 7, IE-9 or the various Microsoft upgrades that have been applied client-side and on the server since I last worked off this site. Perhaps, as one blog suggested, the culprit is one or more corrupt cookies on my laptop. I don’t care; like the other people trying to use SharePoint, I just know that it used to work, but it doesn’t work today. When basic things stop working and when making them work again takes numerous steps, configuration changes or different versions of software, we lose the battle for simplicity, and by the way, simplicity is what people really want.