Our release of the WorkPlace Suite this month is our 10th within 5 and a half years. It is also our 4th generation of the product and our product line. I’ll review our release history and the 4 generations. It highlights the changes in the product architecture and gives you a sense of where we have been and where we are going.
Generation 1 – a Componentized, Modular UI
With the release of SharePoint 2003, we launched v1 of the WorkPlace Suite (the “Suite”) in December 2003. Our approach was to offer a suite of modular components and templates to enable people to create simple collaborative business applications. The first release includes our now “famous” Roll-Up technology to connect to and aggregate data from across sites, site collections, and web applications. This proved to be a key way to add value and increase productivity in the distributed environment of SharePoint. It was a favorite tool to integrate distributed teamsites into peoples portals. It was also perhaps, one of the first point & click “mash-up” technologies.
In this 1st generation, each modular component was a separate display web part with its own .dll. The UI, business logic and data connections were all in each .dll. We had 4 releases over this period during which we greatly extended the core capabilities of navigation and displays, added application templates to get people started quickly, and added additional capabilities such as email notification, data publishing, and Outlook integration.
Generation 2 – Separation of the Business Logic and “Building” of Applications
Generation 2 kicked off with our Summer 2005 release (v5) which included a “builder” administration interface to enable non-technical builders to easily create new display web parts and configure them. In our Winter 2006 (v6) release we brought to market our Action Framework which enabled the builder to create custom actions that automate end-user tasks. Thus, instead of just seeing information users could act on it, and, they could act on many items in one step from across the environment – great productivity gains. With the framework and admin interfaces we began to separate the business logic from the UI moving towards a multi-tier architecture. Through the next 2 versions, we fleshed out this generation running on SharePoint 2003 to include items such as Runtime Action Forms and chained actions, so users could create new items or update items, without having to navigate to where the data was stored.
Generation 3 – Application Configuration and Separation of Data
With our Winter 2007 release (v8) we launched into CorasWorks on SharePoint 2007. To support our user base, we introduced the Design Migrator to support application migration and to allow for programmatic updates of sites/applications with changes in design. We also introduced a number of application configuration elements including central configuration and portfolio management. This was the beginning of our journey to make application configuration of modular apps across the distributed environment more manageable. We launched v9 in October 2007 chock full of enhanced features to flesh out building applications and business processes on SharePoint 2007 and enhanced it in September 2008 with our Fall 2007 Update.
Beginning in November 2007, we also took another major step by introducing a new product, the CorasWorks Data Integration Toolset (“Toolset”). This product allows users to build composite applications with read-write access to external data. It was a major step towards separating the data from the UI and business logic. The direction was to make SharePoint the enterprise front-end for any data. It has rapidly evolved over three dot releases, and has been quite popular for building self-service portals, composite business processes and surfacing data from legacy systems and SOA environments.
Generation 4 – v10 Wave – integrated, multi-tier application development system
The v10 wave includes a major new release of the WorkPlace Suite and tight integration of the Data Integration Toolset. It is a revolutionary release where we brought together the elements of previous releases, and, integrated them via our One Touch system for application life cycle management. In addition, over the last 5 years web-based application development technology has evolved and we incorporated Ajax and Rich Internet Applications technologies into the UI. As a result it was a complete re-build from the ground up that can run side-by-side with CorasWorks v9 and that lays the groundwork for the eventual upgrade to the next version of the SharePoint platform.
So today, in v10 what we have is an Ajax oriented, integrated application development and management system. It is a declarative, point & click “development” model powered by a comprehensive set of Ajax-based wizards. The UI is separate from the data and the business logic. Users are now able to enter, view, and edit information from across the SharePoint environment, using Ajax pop-up forms ,without having to navigate to lists and libraries. They are also empowered to work with the information and to do things like group, sort, filter, search, email, update, publish, and act on their own . This means that builders don’t have to touch the UI to meet each end-users needs
The business activity/task automation has been enhanced and extended. The end-user can have a broad range of custom actions at their disposal to automate tasks and now there are automated back-end activities using event triggers and scheduled activities. All of this is configured with web-based wizards.
The new integration of the Toolset with the Suite, means that you can now see and work with information coming from any data source, external data and/or SharePoint in the same interfaces. Thus, you can have a mash-up of SharePoint data with any external data from anywhere. With our v10 wave, we’ve started to publish database applications on SharePoint built with point & click tools. This is a major breakthrough that really starts to change the role of SharePoint in the workplace.
Lastly, our One Touch system allows organizations to really manage their application environment. Applications and sites can now be referenced through global links (a variable name) vs. a hard-wired URL. You can build Central Views that are consumed by any displays and are centrally configurable. You can now build applications or components in a “development” environment and push them out into production without having to touch a site, a url, or a display web part. These and other elements bring programmatic application life cycle management to SharePoint – a challenging problem given its modular and distributed nature.
Since we launched in 2003, the mission on our web site has always referenced the year 2012. This is the year when we believe that our vision for the workplace will be broadly adopted and the move from content-centric to activity-centric work will be realized. Not to tip our hand, but, here are a few pointers about our roadmap along the way:
- - We’ll see one to two releases of the SharePoint platform and the tighter integration with cloud based environments and application services.
- - Take a look at our new Community. This is evolving to support more business user oriented solutions and the exchange of applications and information. And, you’ll shortly see partners applications and solutions appearing the community, many of which won’t have any custom code, but, will be very rich in features
- - Imagine database applications, departmental applications, and business processes available at a click and easily customized with a wizard – Should it really be so hard to get a pretty simple and standardized app for my department?
- - What about real-time collaboration technologies? When will you have whiteboarding, conferencing, dialing, and video in your workplace?
- - At some point will we realize that all of this notification/alert/inbox stuff is getting out of control and perhaps better off in a different interface than our email inbox? Maybe our mobile device…
- - Is the system behind the workplace really helping me? Couldn’t it be a bit smarter and helpful – maybe it should learn a bit along the way.
Posted by William Rogers on 25-Mar-09