Posey's Tips & Tricks

A Case for SharePoint Spaces

The problem with SharePoint Spaces is that it lacks a compelling business use case. But after testing out the feature at Microsoft Ignite, Brien thinks he's got one figured out.

A few months ago, Microsoft announced a new, forthcoming feature for SharePoint called SharePoint Spaces. In case you haven't heard about this one, it incorporates a Microsoft Mixed Reality environment into the SharePoint interface.

Before I delve too far into SharePoint spaces, let me tell you a story. The year was 2000. It was at the peak of the infamous dot-com boom and Microsoft had recently released Exchange Server 2000, which was designed to run on its brand-new Windows 2000 operating system. Exchange Server 2000 was jam-packed with innovative new features; for example, it was the first Exchange Server release to use Active Directory. Prior to this, Exchange Server had always used its own proprietary directory.

Among all of the new features that were ushered in with Exchange Server 2000 was one that has been almost entirely forgotten about. It was an instant messaging feature. Now, instant messaging was nothing new, even back then, but there was something that made this instant messenger unique: The conversations were displayed as a comic strip. I kid you not. The comics actually built on some earlier Microsoft efforts, which you can read about here.

When SharePoint Spaces was first announced back in May, the Exchange 2000 instant messaging comic book was the first thing to come to mind. The comic book was kind of a cool idea, but ultimately it was just a novelty and quickly vanished into obscurity. That's what I thought about SharePoint Spaces. I mean, why would I put on a Microsoft Mixed Reality headset to view a chart that I could just as easily view on a monitor? There did not seem to be any sort of compelling use case for the feature.

As I write this, I am in Florida attending the Microsoft Ignite conference, and had the chance to test drive SharePoint Spaces for the first time.

The first demo that I saw did nothing to change my mind about the feature. I put on the headset and was presented with a large, complex graph. Because I was wearing the headset, the graph was displayed in true 3-D and I could rotate the chart and zoom in on areas of interest. Even so, the feature did not seem to provide any tangible benefit over viewing the graph on a flat monitor.

Another demo featured a SharePoint document library that contained 3-D objects rather than documents. SharePoint Spaces allowed me to select the objects and look at them more closely. The explanation that I was given was that such a library might be useful for employee training or for use as a sales tool. Personally, I found it to be a bit gimmicky and did not find it all that useful. And that's saying something, because I have always been one of the most vocal supporters of Microsoft's mixed reality initiatives. I think that mixed reality is really cool.

The problem with SharePoint Spaces is that it lacks a compelling business use case. But I think I have figured one out.

The document library demonstration that I saw featured a document library that was filled with 3-D objects related to camping. While this demo might not seem all that useful for employee training or sales presentations, it would make for an awesome online store. How many times have you been shopping for something online and wished that you could see the product in more detail? The SharePoint Spaces environment lets you zoom in on the product, rotate it and interact to your heart's content.

I think that such a capability could completely revolutionize online shopping. And remember, the SharePoint environment is displayed in a Web browser. It wouldn't take much for Microsoft to create a shopping cart feature and build an online 3-D store.

I think that the one thing that would be key to the success of such a store, however, would be accurate 3-D models of the products. Generic 3-D representations would not do anyone much good. However, being able to virtually touch and interact with accurate 3-D models of retail goods would be hugely beneficial. I would be first in line to shop at an online store like that.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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