I have had access to a SharePoint installation for some time. I had promised readers of Ask Johnny! that I would do a more thorough comparison of eRoom and SharePoint a while back. I’ve had a chance to play with it some in order to form an initial impression of its capabilities. What follows is a comparison of the out-of-the-box functionality of eRoom and SharePoint.
Disclaimers: I have been working with eRoom for years, so have a natural bias. I am also still learning SharePoint, so I am sure I’ve missed some things. My client environment is a fully patched IE 6 running on Windows XP Professional with Office 2003 Professional. I also only had administrator rights to my site, not the installation as a whole.
My overall impression is that SharePoint is a very pretty interface. That is very important for users as it is a source of first impressions and sometimes they equate pretty with advanced. SharePoint also has a better landing screen for each site, allowing for a quick view into the current activity in the collaboration space. Now for some specifics…
- While there are some ActiveX controls, which I’m not sure I was able to utilize, there are no plugins that need to be installed as with eRoom. On the other hand, every Microsoft Office application serves as a plugin. My Word worked fairly well with MOSS 2007 without having to make any adjustments to my system.
- Unlike eRoom, there is no right-click menus in SharePoint. Context menus are available through liberal use of drop-down menus implemented as part of the title.
- There is an ability in SharePoint to spawn a collaboration site specifically for a meeting when created in a calendar. I can see that being quite useful.
- Searching for users and groups is better in SharePoint, but browsing for users is challenging.
- Editing the start page is simple. The Web Parts can be manipulated in a fashion similar to most portals.
- Security for all items is inherited from the parent. Each item can be individualized for security. The general security paradigm is the same for both eRoom and SharePoint.
- SharePoint doesn’t have drag and drop into the browser, though this could have been and ActiveX issue. This is a big thing. Users love dragging things into eRoom.
- Users’ profiles can have pictures and have files directly connected to them in SharePoint.
- I was unable to use the Forms feature as I am not running Infopath on my system.
- SharePoint does have the ability to create a wiki in the site. Nothing fancy, but it is there and seemed to worked fairly well.
- When you edit content, it opens up in the appropriate application no problem. All content is read from and saved to a Web Folder on the hosting server. It is a little confusing when you try to save the document. It prompts you for a location. The default location is the web folder, with the document listed. It threw me off, and I’m a little more computer savvy than the standard user. eRoom can be a little confusing as well though when the user is presented with both a Windows save dialog and an eRoom save dialog.
- In eRoom, you can place any collaboration artifact inside any other artifact. In SharePoint, many times you are limited to just pieces of content. This leads to a more rigid structure that may require more planning for some solutions.
- Both systems allow for links as Rich Text entries. eRoom has links as collaboration artifacts, allowing for more options on link placement.
Lists versus Databases
A list is the SharePoint equivalent of eRoom’s databases. They form the foundation for many of the collaboration artifacts in SharePoint. I feel that the SharePoint List is more advanced in several areas, but eRoom’s databases are more flexible and easier to use.
- First thing, I miss the wizards in eRoom. When you create a database, or anything, in eRoom, it takes you through a wizard that helps you build the database. SharePoint throws a couple of columns out there (title, created date, modified date) and then you have to edit it. Not very intuitive. You can do a lot, but you have to work for it.
- You can attach documents but not other objects. The attachments always have the same security as the item they are attached to in the list.
- Columns can lookup values in other Lists.
- You can create folders within a List in order to group items without creating a column. You can create sub-folders as well.
- Sorting and filtering on columns is easier as it is down with a context menu drop-down.
- There is an option in SharePoint to import a spreadsheet as a list. I couldn’t get it to work with any of my existing spreadsheets. While I could probably figure out how to do it, I know a user most likely won’t.
- A column’s values can the be a calculated value based on the values of the other columns in a row. This also applies to default values.
- You can create different views. By creating a Task List and creating a Gantt view, you can start to develop a project plan.
- There does appear to be some workflow, similar to the process databases in eRoom. However, as I wasn’t able to determine how to do anything more than use the 3 step workflow that was already present, I didn’t evaluate this feature. This seems to give the edge to eRoom as process databases are created during the wizard process.
SharePoint is more polished looking than eRoom and works with Microsoft Office Applications much more tightly, as expected. eRoom is much easier to use for the everyday user, especially for more advanced features. SharePoint does not appear to be something I would give to the average user for anything beyond simple collaboration. If I was going to use it for specific business processes, I would want some requirements gathered and have it put together by a SharePoint expert.
I’m going to be using SharePoint on one of my projects. After I have used it for a while, I’ll post some more comparisons based on long-term usage. In the meantime I will be keeping an eye on MOSS 2007 as more lessons learned come out in the industry.