Thursday, March 17, 2011

HTDE SharePoint Book Supplement–History of MCMS and SharePoint

Last year, my SharePoint 2010 end-user book came out: How to Do Everything: Microsoft SharePoint 2010. To keep the momentum going, I’ve decided to write some short supplements. My goal is to add in things that I either didn’t have the time or the pages to do it in the printed book. After all, the express goal of the book was to not overwhelm end-users with too much information—as used to be common in the SharePoint world. The added topics might include background information, more examples, or maybe just colourful anecdotes about working on the Microsoft Content Management Server (MCMS) and SharePoint teams at Microsoft. I’ll try and follow the chapter order, but if something compelling comes along that’s out of order, I won’t hold back the content just to keep the posts in sequence.

The first chapter of the book is an introduction to SharePoint and a history of the evolution of the platform (written by former Director of Marketing for SharePoint, Arpan Shah). It’s also one of my versions of answering the question, “what’s SharePoint?”—although you don’t hear that so much anymore. In this first supplement, I’ve decided to add a history of MCMS and talk about how publishing features from MCMS were added to SharePoint.

First off, if you look to the right-hand side of this page, you’ll see a logo that looks like the one below. (My apologies to those of you in the future who are reading this after I’ve changed my blog template or migrated to some sort of solar-powered blogging platform.) This logo was created for NCompass Resolution 3.0 and also used for v. 3.1—the last major release before Resolution became MCMS.


Prior to the Microsoft acquisition, NCompass Labs was a small company based in Vancouver, Canada. We worked in an old Hudson’s Bay Company  fur warehouse in Gastown; it was the classic '”bricks and sticks” style that was popular during the .com boom. The office was on Water St. (so near the famous steam-powered clock that we could hear it form our desks) and boasted a view of the mountains and Burrard Inlet. I spent most of my time there facing Water St., but for a short time, I did enjoy that mountain view.

After Microsoft acquired NCompass Labs, Resolution 3.1 became MCMS 2001. The .NET initiative was on every dev manager’s mind at Microsoft and MCMS 2002 was released to add support for .NET. One of my tasks with the MCMS team was to port the Woodgrove Bank sample site to Woodgrove.NET. As you may have guessed, SharePoint 2003 was released the next year.

I’ve heard some revisionist history accounts of what happened during this period. So here’s my take. Since SharePoint and MCMS were both used to create websites, people often chose to do this using the erroneous distinction that SharePoint was for internal sites and MCMS was for public facing sites. In truth, SharePoint was focused on team collaboration and the fact that it wasn’t being used for public facing sites had a lot to do with the licensing model. MCMS could be used for any website but it didn’t ship with templates out of the box the way SharePoint did. However, MCMS was built from day one with public facing sites in mind and later versions had been tuned extensively for optimal performance on heavily trafficked sites.

- In honour of it’s Canadian roots, the MCMS box and screens featured images of the Vancouver library.

The two products weren’t even in the same business unit. SharePoint was in the Office Server Group and MCMS was in the now defunct E-Business servers group that was working on an e-business suite codenamed “Jupiter.” Jupiter was meant to include BizTalk, Host Integration Server, Commerce Server and MCMS. However, as time went on Jupiter remained a far-out idea and the confusion around which Microsoft product customers should use for building their site still remained. Microsoft knew that a change was in order. The resolution (pardon the pun) came when MCMS was retired and the MCMS team was folded in the Office Server Group. We were quickly set out to add more publishing features to SharePoint. Before I left Microsoft, I was working on SharePoint 2007 (MOSS) navigation, but I moved back to Canada before the release.

SharePoint today is a popular and rich platform for building websites. If someone asks, “what’s SharePoint?” feel free to use that line.


Anonymous said...

For me the biggest difference between CMS and SharePoint was that CMS had staging.

I.e. we had three sets of 2 servers for (roughly) Test / Production Test / Production and controlled way of transfering "code" (poor choice of word - were they officially called "templates"?) between espcially the second and third sets of servers.

As SharePoint still doesn't have such a thing built-in and really needs it, that for me was the main thing that was lost when CMS was devoured by SharePoint.

I think you should mention it in your precis !

(The vagueness is because I was the boss of the guy who ran the CMS systems and the development efforts were elsewhere. For me SharePoint followed after I changed tracks.)

Stephen Cawood said...

I believe you're talking about Site Deployment, but in case you meant Site Stager, I'll talk about that as well.

The Resolution/MCMS Site Deployment feature was added in NCompass Resolution version 3.1. In fact, it was the reason there was a version 3.1 release. To ensure it was done right (and tested properly) it was broken out into its own release. Site Deployment was a mechanism for packaging up sites, pages, content, users, permissions etc, and then importing them into a different Resolution/MCMS server.

Site Deployment (as you mentioned) could be used to move assets from dev to test, or from test to production, etc. It was a really great system. SharePoint does have an improved Site Deployment API in SharePoint 2010, but it's not the same functionality. Building something into SharePoint that's similar to MCMS Site Deployment is a popular feature request, but in the mean time, partners such as the company I work for, Metalogix, have been filling that gap with products such as SharePoint Site Migration Manager.

Another feature that MCMS offered was Site Stager. A good friend of mine wrote much of Site Stager, and I personally used it for the MCMS FAQ, so I was a fan.

For those not familiar, Site Stager would crawl an NCompass Resolution/MCMS site and export it as HTML or ASP. In other words, it produced a static copy that you could then deploy without the database requirements. The benefits included the fact that the static version could be rendered much faster (back in 1999 this was more of a concern), you didn't need a database license for the live site and you didn't need to have the authoring environment outside of the firewall.

These benefits were more applicable to a time when running dynamic websites was considered...well... foolish. These days, there are so many applications running in the web that people keep coming up with new names for it--right now, it's "cloud computing."

Another factor is that since SharePoint was predominantly used internally when it first came on the scene, the idea of a site stager wouldn't have been quite as popular.

Both Site Deployment and Site Stager would be useful features today.