IBM Websphere Portal vs Microsoft SharePoint?
May 20, 2009 10:31 AM   Subscribe

IBM Websphere Portal vs Microsoft SharePoint: which is less loathsome?

The organization for which I work (think: mid-size governmental agency, several thousand employees) got hoodwinked into buying IBM Websphere Portal, just before I started working for them. I say 'hoodwinked' because, whatever strengths or shortcomings Portal might have in general, it is a terrible fit for our needs. We use portal as our intranet platform, users log in and have personalized access on to a couple of applications, and maybe news or other stuff related to their department. I am one of three developer/producers for our intranet and internet sites. We paid consultants a zillion dollars to install Portal, and another zillion form time to time when it breaks.

Ok, fine, I'll admit it. I hate Websphere Portal. It can do powerful things but it is the most obfuscated, complicated, expensive, counter-intuitive, unpredictable, instable, inflexible, bloated, ugly, PIG of an application I have ever had the displeasure of crossing paths with. Its very existence offends me as an employee and as a taxpayer - it's that bad.

Anyway, now somebody somewhere well above me is in the process of being hoodwinked into buying SharePoint, a product I don't know much about. But, since I have a fair amount of experience coding VB, and administering IIS, and it seems like you can actually write asp/html type code and have it work without TOOOOOO much juryrigging, SharePoint sounds like a magical land of unicorns and rainbows compared to Websphere Portal.

Surprisingly, we have been asked whether we think SharePoint is a good idea.

So, at long last, the question: am I going to hate SharePoint as much as I hate WebSphere Portal? More? Should I take my retirement 20 years early and become a painter of houses?
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
SP is probably the lesser of the two evils. Will you hate it? Possibly. Maybe not quite as much as WAS. It really depends on what you'll be using it for. At a prior employer, it was presented as a drop-in replacement for our wiki. It's wiki functionality left much to be desired, but all the business folks liked the Exchange integration, the custom dashboards and the rest of the frou-frou for which SP is famous.
posted by jquinby at 10:41 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've found SharePoint to be awful and kludgey to the extreme. It's brutal to use and work with and administer.

I haven't used Websphere, so I can't compare.
posted by reddot at 11:36 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I haven't used Websphere, but I have been working with SharePoint for the last several months for a site on a client's intranet. Most of what I do is relatively straightforward page design, with some Flash animations embedded, and links to external documents.

Althought it can be annoying to feel hamstrung by using a system for everything, instead of having complete control, as I would when using a "normal" server and Dreamweaver/HTML/whatever, I have to say it's really not that bad.

I have been able to do everything I need. In some cases, that meant pasting or writing my own html, which has worked for everything I have tried.

Like any CMS, just allow yourself some patient ramp-up time to figure out how it wants you to do things. It was frustrating at first, but like joining a cult, once I saw the light and stopped trying to fight it, I was at peace.

A couple tips:
It does allow you to switch between HTML mode and "rich text" mode which is what they call the wysiwyg interface. One click toggles between the 2 modes.

They call the different areas of the page a "web part." So there's a header web part, a body web part, a right side web part, etc. You edit each part separately. Confusing at first, it does allow for a lot of flexibility in layout, since you can determine the sizes of the web parts.

Caution: In the version I am using, it wants to add a title-bar kind of thing and a visible frame to each web part. It's easy to turn off, but I have to do so each time I create a new web part. You install may differ.
posted by The Deej at 11:40 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I should add: Sharepoint is no way as fast as doing it myself with complete control. Saving changes, submitting for approval, and approving, all take time. But I just remind myself I charge by the hour.
posted by The Deej at 11:51 AM on May 20, 2009

I used to hate Sharepoint because it was ugly and always seemed to do things the wrong way, and I too had a moment where the light came on.

Think of Sharepoint as two-fold:

1. A .NET development environment that does all the simple things for you (presentation layer, authentication based on AD, etc) and has a great, well documented object model and a lot of Google-support so if you want to do things like bring in a database and ASP pages you can, or really anything with XML web services ... if your company is heavily invested in Microsoft, which most mid-sized companies are to a degree, you can drop it in place and it can do 85% of things for you, the other percent you can write yourself.

2. A web-based way to share common lists and files, with approvals and permissions and links to your Office applications (most users LOVE "Connect to Outlook," "Connect to Excel," etc.

I use it perhaps 80% as simply sharing things that were previously on UNC shares, with perhaps more granular permissions. People hated to go to the VPN and then remember the network paths. I did not find it hard and if you're in a tech oriented culture then (2) which I see used perhaps 80% is of limited value.

The other part, (1), for me, is the real value. Executives saw the value of Sharepoint for (2) which was really unimpressive to me, I could show them how things they were previously doing in ugly Excel work sheets or manually could be automated by say, creating a managed folder in Exchange, having a powershell script scrape that folder and put it into the corresponding Sharepoint list, have that initiate a workflow in Sharepoint that queries a SQL database, put the locations on a Google Maps mash-up web part and have other data showing in a custom Sharepoint site that's really an ASP page that looks like a Sharepoint site. Then all the hand waving and powerpoints and me explaining the value of custom applications suddenly gets pass whatever hurdle they failed to understand and voila, I get funding.

So if you're familiar in the least with Visual Studio, the way Microsoft does frameworks and objects and how to navigate MSDN and blogs, Sharepoint is incredibly powerful. I suggest you spend time looking through the object model, setting a virtual machine with Sharepoint and playing around with it. The learning curve between understanding how to work it vs understanding how to really use it is great, probably greater than it needs to be because Microsoft tries to simplify the GUI for non-developer types (they could call content types objects as in OOP, but they don't ...).

If you look at Office 2010 they clearly are making Sharepoint the counter program to Exchange/Outlook and are investing heavily in it. I imagine a lot of things I find hard now are completely solved in Sharepoint 2010, there's even an offline client called "Workspaces" that'll sync sites for people who have laptops and such. Infopath also looks really re-vamped.

So there's no doubt that MS is going in that direction hard, turning power users into mini-developers, and if you're a shop that has Office throughout, and are using AD/Exchange, it really is probably something you should take a serious look at regardless if you go in that direction now.
posted by geoff. at 1:44 PM on May 20, 2009

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