Comparing Features of SharePoint and eRoom


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.

Overall

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.

Summary

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.

24 thoughts on “Comparing Features of SharePoint and eRoom

  1. Hi Laurence

    I don’t take issue with anything you have said above, but, I do think its comparing apples with oranges – eRoom does not attempt to do half of what MOSS / Sharepoint is trying to, so you have inspired me to do my own analysis on my PageFlakes site.

    Good luck with your Sharepoint project :-)

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  2. You are correct, they aren’t exactly the same, but I’m not sure it is an apples-oranges comparison. I agree that SharePoint is claiming more functionality than eRoom, but I’m not sure how much of it really delivers.

    I look forward to your analysis.

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  3. Ha ha, we have you:

    “I am not sure how much of it really delivers” – you old sceptic you…..

    Me either – but they then I am pretty much sceptical of anything that M$ say, do or produce.

    I am not really sure that PageFlakes works too well as a blogging platform, but check out http://www.pageflakes.com/ecm – its on the right hand side of the front page !

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  4. Mark says:

    Nice article. I would say that you’re pretty much spot on with your evaluation of SharePoint. Is there anywhere where I can find a similar objective summary of eRoom?

    In regards to drag/drop this is achievable via the Explorer View. Also, since there’s support for WEBDAV you can access SharePoint via Network Places.

    Some other stuff probably worth mentioning:
    – Web Services are automatically created for each SharePoint site.
    – Branding SharePoint collaboration sites is not fun. Grrr.
    – SharePoint uses regular ASP.Net 2.0 web parts.
    – InfoPath + SharePoint is pretty cool, perhaps you could get an evaluation copy as it’s worth checking out.
    – The Excel list import thing does work, it wasn’t intuitive though.
    – You can use sequential and machine state workflows in SharePoint. Sequential is as it sounds (no looping/branching), you use SharePoint Designer for this. For complex workflows you’ll need Visual Studio.Net. Machine state workflows are reusable, sequential workflows are not. There’s a few machine state workflows provided as standard.
    – Excel Services and Business Data Catalog are pretty cool. Suck in external data (web services, databases, spreadsheets, etc), transform and render – e.g. business scorecards, KPIs, etc.

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  5. Thanks for the additional information. As for an analysis of eRoom vs. SharePoint, if you read mine backwards, you could get some of that. eRoom doesn’t have any major features that have not been incorporated into SharePoint to some degree. As noted, eRoom does have a much more intuitive user interface and is more wizard driven, making life easier for the average user.

    I would be happy to answer any specific questions that you may have about eRoom.

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  6. Mark says:

    “I am not sure how much of it really delivers”. I agree that feature depth isn’t really comparable with some other products but judging by SharePoint sales figures MS apparently don’t need to provide this. Advanced functionality has traditionally been provided by MS partners – Meridio, K2.Net, etc.

    My half baked theory is that clients are waking up to the fact that their users don’t use more than 25% (number picked at random) of the functionality that is offered by the top end ECM systems that they’ve previously purchased. Maybe SharePoint is providing this 25% functionality. It’s effectively MS Office Online as well which makes it even more appealing. It might not be brilliant but it does just enough and is cheap as chips.

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  7. I don’t dispute that SharePoint has a place. I’m more concerned with their claims of being an ECM platform. Storing content in a database as a BLOB object begins to negate that capability for large organizations.

    I’ll have more on SharePoint/ECM shortly. I have one post in draft stage and another rattling around my head.

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  8. vijay says:

    Can anybody tell me about other feature like object model,web part creation, workflows. I am talking about custom creation of these things in sharepoint. As i dont know that eroom can have these customization. So pls tell me comparison in context of eroom and sharepoint taking these areas of sharepoint. pls inform me also at vj_narang007@yahoo.com if u can. it would be great knowlegde.
    If you dont mind then would say that your specifics are not based on maturity of sharepoint as i think.( I am not aware of eroom.)

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  9. I purposely did not compare/contrast customizations options as I don’t have direct experience with that process in SharePoint and could not fairly compare them.

    That being said, a large number of companies use eRoom from day 1 with no customizations. They can create process databases with multiple steps and rejections using a wizard. eRoom also comes with a few more templates than eRoom for objects as well.

    As for customization, I can do quite a bit in eRoom. eRoom does not have the same portal capabilities as SharePoint, so you can’t write a Web Part, or standardized portlet. However, I can write custom behaviors for the objects already in eRoom and customize the look and feel a great deal.

    eRoom is for collaboration, remember that. SharePoint claims to be an ECM platform/portal. That I do not see out of the box. When considering Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) that is an important consideration.

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  10. Hari Prasad says:

    If we consider TCO, sharepoint services is free of cost. (Of course we need windows 2003). At the same time eRoom also needs IIS 6.0 which comes with windows only.
    Sharepoint services cannot be considered ECM platform/portal OOTB. Sharepoint portal server can be considered as ECM platform.
    I find lot many features OOTB in sharepoint rather than eRoom. some of them are
    1. Sharepoint has cross site data connection.
    2. Sharepoint is highly customizable compared to eRoom.
    3. Has portal features.
    4. Sharepoint UI can be easily customized through sharepoint designer. There is no such facility for eRoom.
    5. Lists can be morphed using views. There is no such facility in eRoom.
    6. Sharepoint has list templates as well column templates. eRoom only has database templates.
    7. Same column can be added to multiple lists in sharepoint.
    8. We can customize only some events which are predefined in eRoom. In sharepoint we can customize any thing.
    9. As eroom is built on classic ASP, we need to rely on ISAPI filters (which is difficult) for advanced customizations. Sharepoint is built on ASP.net so that we can use HTTP Handlers.
    10. Sharepoint has free tools to build CAML queries. eRoom do not have any to build EDQL Queries.
    11. We can define customized search in sharepoint without programming. We can specify whether to include the list in search results or not in sharepoint. eRoom do not has this facility.
    12. Work flows are more powerful than process databases.
    13. eRoom is built on ASP which limits the use of server controls. Sharepoint can have large set of server controls.
    14. If we need to connect to external databases for some reason, we dont have flexibility of using ADO.NET in eRoom.
    15. Lists can be converted into calendar views which is very beautiful feature in sharepoint.
    16. eRoom has fixed content types available. Sharepoint content types can be added.
    17. Lists can be filtered by the user easily.
    18. We have rich site level permissions and object level permissions in sharepoint compared to eRoom.

    I can add lot more features in sharepoint which eRoom does not has.

    Conclusion: Sharepoint claims to be ECM platform/portal along with collaboration. We should not compare eRoom to sharepoint as eRoom is only collaboration tool.

    If we compare sharepoint portal server with documentum, definitely documentum will be having big big hand.
    Sharepoint need to be improved a lot to compare with documentum.
    I will launch my blog post in few days with granular comparison of sharepoint services and eRoom.

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  11. Can’t be said I don’t allow opposing points of view. Several of your points I already stated/conceded, though I won’t list them. Also several points seem repetitive.

    Not trying to defend eRoom here, just want fair comparisons. Many of your points revolve around customization. My point is that eRoom is easier for the end-user to utilize immediately with minimal training. SharePoint is more advanced, and I think I’ve said that, though maybe not explicitly enough.

    Also, at no point will I claim that eRoom is an ECM platform.

    For future comparisons, please post something online that I can link to from my blog. The comment list is getting a tad long in the tooth.

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  12. Hi Mark,
    Been on vacation, but thanks for doing this comparison. I have had limited access to SharePoint as well, but will be attending a demo on wednesday. One other thing that I have been told that SharePoint does not have is the notion of an “Inbox” that can be embedded in eRoom. Can you confirm that, or deny that? Like you, when I have clients who need something easy to use out of the box, eRoom is the way to go. It seems much easier for non-technical users to create an eRoom database than to build a SharePoint list.

    I do have a client that has a need for a portal that eRoom can’t handle and we’re looking at SharePoint and Oracle Portal (as well as others).

    Again, thanks for posting your comparison.

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  13. Oh, and the whole notion of nested containers does not seem to exist in SharePoint. In eRoom, we can have a calendar entry with an embedded database, with a folder in a database entry, etc etc etc. Not so in SharePoint.

    This is incredibly useful when modeling certain business programs, projects, people and process using eRoom. For instance, you may have many program areas. Each program can have multiple projects. Each project can have multiple tasks, etc. Using eRoom, I can build a database of programs with a database of projects in each program’s attachment area. Then a database of tasks within each project’s attachment area. That’s a 3 level deep embedded database. If I want more detailed reporting than eRoom an provide, I then use the XML API and Java to pull the data out of eRoom into Oracle (or MS SQL) and can do what I want with the data. Also, going in reverse, we may have an HR system in an outside database that may register a new employee. We can then use the XML api to insert a new user in eRoom and provide access to the roles, groups, rooms and items as necessary…. all programmatically. Even the initial invitation can be automated. All from being added as an employee to an outside database. No need for ADO.NET, as a prior poster complained about. :-)

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  14. Project Manager says:

    I’ve moved from a company that uses SharePoint extensively to another that has eRoom and refuses to support SharePoint. As one who misses what was available with SharePoint, I’m surprised to find a population who show a preference for eRoom.

    The things I found to be under-appreciated but extremely useful in SharePoint are:
    - The ability to have columns look up value in other Lists provides an easy to manage environment where several different items (risks, issues, status report, change requests) can be merged into a single dashboard view.
    - The ability to create calculated columns simplifies the user experience (i.e. probability * impact = risk level)
    - The ability to directly link MS ACCESS, WORD, or Excel to the sharepoint data allows for user defined reports to be created and run with little hassle.

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  15. eRoom User says:

    Pie or eroomexpert,

    Can you point me at some reference materials for getting started with the XML API. I’m a Community Admin with a large number of data-rich eRooms I’d like to mine.

    Thanks.

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  16. Wish I could. When I had a project use them, we had to fight our way through it. The system online help was only enough to get us started. The EMC Support Forums were our best resource.

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  17. Ravi, there is no migration of eRoom to SharePoint. Someone may have written a tool, but I doubt it. Besides, most things won’t go over cleanly anyway.

    If you must go from eRoom to SharePoint, try setting your eRooms to read-only and embed the items into SharePoint as little portlets. Not simple, but much easier than migrating.

    Or, you could just stay with eRoom.

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  18. Tim says:

    Yes, I have seen a migration tool of eRoom to SharePoint. Our company is going to a pure Microsoft stack on everything and Verinon Technology did the tool to migrate this. Caution: there are many things that do not migrate so ask a lot of questions.

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  19. Paul says:

    Tim, I have to do a similar to yourself. Can you give me a rough estimate of the cost to an enterprise company? Been looking at Avepoint and Verinon but havent enquired yet, I heard they cost a fortune though. With the things that wouldnt migrate did you recreate the databases manually? The best and easiest option I was looking at (rather than migrating) was just linking the back end SQL servers and databases to sharepoint with the BDC (Business Data Catalog) function but we’re shutting down these servers and physically moving the files to new MOSS farms.

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  20. Naga says:

    could you please tell me how to Design and develop custom solutions for the eRoom platform implemented at EY using .Net and ASP technologies?. Its an urgent and important for me.

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    • Depends on what you need to accomplish. Are you looking to change the look or add more advanced features? eRoom Extensions can do most of what you need. You can get pretty advanced, but there reaches a point where it makes more sense to add the Documentum Content Server behind the scenes.

      It is important to note that eRoom can be customized, but it is not a development platform.

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  21. Andy Corson says:

    I am new to eRoom – at this point I feel forced to use it, because even though our company uses Sharepoint for our intranet, the IT department will not allow employees to set up sites. I come from a Sharepoint background, and I am finding eRooms similar, but overall not as good. I have a question – what is the point of a Process Database (I find myself asking that question about some of the other databases)? There are two fields here, and there doesn’t seem to be much point. I hope people are still reading this thread.

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    • A process database is a simple way to setup an item to flow thru a linear workflow. You can go forwards or back based upon the actions permitted to each group. It has been a while since I setup one up. If I may suggest, there should be a template process database in your system, every deployment comes with one, that you can use to get a feel for how it works. The help is also decent if you click that question mark in the upper right corner.

      The issue with eRoom is that it hasn’t really evolved in almost a decade. It was a great product and worked well. At the time of this post, it was fairly competitive with SharePoint still, but not with SP2010. It is still good but as you’ve noticed, it feels old and some of the way we do things have evolved.

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