Andrew Chapman is thinking about SharePoint as a replacement for ECM:

Of course the real point here is that SharePoint may not really provide good enough ECM capabilities today but what's to come? I still struggle to see how SharePoint could support some of the mandatory ECM-related functionality with their current architecture but it would be naive to think that Microsoft would not go after that space in future releases.

If anyone from Microsoft would like to tell us the 5 year strategy for SharePoint I promise that I'll keep it a secret. Just post it here as a comment.

I'm not from Microsoft, but I've worked at several Microsoft partners and it's not hard to see the repeating pattern.

Microsoft loves to build platforms. Everyone knows Windows is a platform for deploying desktop applications, and IIS/ASP.NET is a platform for deploying web applications, but also: Office is a platform for deploying document-centric productivity applications, Visual Studio is a platform for deploying developer tools, TFS is a platform for deploying developer collaboration and management applications, etc. You can be sure that any successful Microsoft product will eventually morph into a platform. One way to know the platform is ready is when Microsoft starts delivering new functionality by just using the platform's public API.

Microsoft builds platforms because it knows how to build partnerships. Each of the platforms listed above have a thriving eco-system of ISV's delivering products to run on top of their platform. Steve Jobs recognized this last year when he and Bill Gates got together for an interview:

Lise: Lise Buyer. Question, I guess it’s historical curiosity. You approached the same opportunity so very differently. What did you learn about running your own business that you wished you had thought of sooner or thought of first by watching the other guy?

Steve: You know, because Woz and I started the company based on doing the whole banana, we weren’t so good at partnering with people. And, you know, actually, the funny thing is, Microsoft’s one of the few companies we were able to partner with that actually worked for both companies. And we weren’t so good at that, where Bill and Microsoft were really good at it because they didn’t make the whole thing in the early days and they learned how to partner with people really well.

He's right -- Microsoft almost never intends to deliver the entire solution for everyone -- instead they provide a pretty good solution that will work for a lot of people and a platform so that customer's can either fill in the rest themselves or buy a third-party add-on. Microsoft itself will extend the product in ways that benefit a significant enough market, or just provide enough hooks so that a partner can do it.

So, to answer Andrew's question about the five-year plan for SharePoint -- we are now at the end of phase one -- build up enough of a platform and a core user base to attract ISV's. Windows was here by Windows 95, IIS/SQL Server was here by 1997, Office in the same time frame (with VBA), ASP.NET in 2002. You can kind of tell where they are going by looking at what they have done.

  1. They tend not to provide specific vertical solutions. There are exceptions -- Word has specific features that only lawyers use (big enough market and WordPerfect had it). For the most part, you wouldn't expect Microsoft to deliver SharePoint for a vertical -- they will leave that to integrators and ISV's. If they do this, it's to displace a competitor in a big enough market.

  2. They will integrate the platform with their developer tools -- this is a gimme. Visual Studio is itself a platform and can be extended to write applications for any platform -- you can already write SharePoint solutions in VS, but look to see that more and more -- including more visual tools, which aren't there yet.

  3. They will bring other MS platform pieces into SharePoint -- SharePoint itself is built on ASP.NET, SQL Server, and Office -- expect to see more -- I'd expect Silverlight (meaning that it will be a first class citizen -- it's already possible to use, but not yet used by MS nor particularly integrated).

  4. They will make more of the integration they personally use part of the public API. Office applications have tight integration with SharePoint -- I would expect to see this extended to third-party applications soon (we have already done this with Vizit Scan-to-SharePoint)

  5. Deployment of third-party applications needs to be made better. SharePoint does an ok job here, but as they get feedback from ISV's, I'd expect this to be more seamless in the future. This is one of the last things that they get right for each platform -- it's better the more of a pure platform the product is (Windows/IIS), but not as great for platforms based on products (Office).
I'd expect most of the work by Microsoft to actually be on the business side, helping integrators and ISV's -- building out online communities, marketplaces, and partner programs.