Why a longtime Microsoft SharePoint partner made its new app for Dropbox instead

Seattle-area software maker Vizit has a long history on SharePoint, Microsoft’s widely used platform for corporate collaboration and communication. Vizit’s search and document preview technologies for SharePoint have been around since 2007, and Vizit says hundreds of thousands of people use its technologies worldwide.

clipsiBut when it came time to build its latest app, Clipsi, a Pinterest-style online clipping tool for documents and websites, the company opted to build on top of Dropbox instead.

Vizit CEO Paul Yantus says the company made the decision after becoming frustrated with what it sees as Microsoft’s limitations on third-party apps for SharePoint and the Office 365 app store.

The core issue: Vizit wanted end users to be able to install and use Clipsi without going through the process of getting approval from their IT administrators. The issue highlights a divide between IT administrators who want to maintain network security and control, and the business users who are increasingly going around those controls by using consumer-style apps.

“It’s not ours to argue what’s right or wrong here,” said Yantus via phone this week. “This is what’s happening, and as an entrepreneur our job is to capitalize on it — to give the users what they want.”

Also shaping Vizit’s decision was its earlier attempt to build a different Office 365 app, a thumbnail preview tool for documents. Vizit discovered that the specific functionality — changing the preview behavior inside Office 365 — wouldn’t be possible because it required more rights than Microsoft provided to third-party app developers.

Richard Riley, director of product marketing for SharePoint, acknowledged this morning that Microsoft doesn’t offer that specific type of functionality to app makers, but he didn’t rule it out. “We’re working hard to enable these extensibility points across the platform as quickly as we possibly can,” he said, noting that Microsoft is shipping updates every three months, much faster than in the past.

However, in the bigger picture, he said the flexibility that the company gives IT administrators to control these types of apps is actually one of the biggest selling points for companies that use its technologies. “One of their biggest complaints is the lack of security and compliance (in tools such as Dropbox) and they do everything they can to switch it off,” he explained.

Riley said Microsoft has put in a deliberate set of controls for IT administrators, including an option for users to start a procurement process when they see an app they want to install. IT administrators can also set up their own curated version of the app store that includes company-approved apps in high-demand among their end users.

The idea is to empower users but keep some “bumper bars” around the experience, he said.

“We’ve had a ton of very positive feedback from customers who have deployed the store because we’ve put these controls in place,” Riley said, noting that otherwise many of them would have switched off access to the applications altogether.

Riley said he’d like to speak with Vizit and learn from their experience.

From his perspective, Vizit’s Yantus says he believes Microsoft is being too restrictive, and he hopes the company will adapt. If not, he says, Microsoft risks being left behind as business users lead the push to the cloud.  As it is now, he said, “you can’t put a meaningful app into the app store.” He described many of the existing Office 365 apps as merely marketing apps that promote services from the particular vendor.

Vizit plans to continue offering its existing solutions for SharePoint, but the company has been encouraged with the response to its Clipsi beta on Dropbox so far, and plans to expand the Clipsi app to other cloud storage platforms in the future.

  • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

    SharePoint and Dropbox are not comparable. They are totally different platforms. The author either does not realise and is making a meaningless comparison, or else is (as I suspect) trying to spin this into a negative Microsoft story by drawing an erroneous comparison.

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Of course, SharePoint and DropBox are not the same. They’re very different. But for the purposes of this app, the developer had a choice between the two, and actually had planned the app for SharePoint initially. So in that respect, they’re absolutely comparable. The developer made the comparison and made a choice based on the differences in what was important to them.

      • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

        It’s an interesting story, thanks for reporting it.

        But it’s spun as a criticism of SharePoint and that seems daft. The security restrictions of SharePoint are not accidental, they are there for a reason! Obviously. Therefore, designing an app for a different platform because you don’t like the security restrictions is not a criticism of SharePoint — yet this is how it comes across above.

        “Vizit CEO Paul Yantus says the company made the decision after becoming frustrated [with the security controls provided by SharePoint and adopted by IT professionals]”

        Please quote what he said that you interpreted as “frustration”. This spin seems to misunderstand the story. I appreciate that a bit of controversy spices up a story, and some still consider negative Microsoft stories trendy like the olden days when we were both a bit younger, but seriously dude. :)

        This actual quote is surely a more realistic reflection of opinion within the industry and that of the app developer:

        ”One of their biggest complaints is the lack of security and compliance (in tools such as Dropbox) and they do everything they can to switch it off,”

        • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

          Understood, and these are good thoughts. Maybe Paul can weigh in here, but I do think it’s accurate to say that they were frustrated by the security controls in Office 365 and SharePoint. Here’s how Vizit described it in some of the explanatory materials they shared with me …

          “With Microsoft putting great emphasis on the cloud, we decided to build our new solution, Clipsi, as an Office 365 app. This would allow individual business users to find and install the solution, without having to go through the process of getting administrator approval.

          “Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. Microsoft’s walled garden approach to Office 365 precluded the deployment of even the simplest solution. Vizit’s first attempt at placing something in the Office 365 store
          was an app that provided nothing more than a preview of PDF files using the user’s preferred browser plugin. After repeated attempts to place the app in the Office 365 store, we came to the conclusion that Microsoft’s policies around Office 365 would not allow this solution, or really any meaningful app we were contemplating developing. It was also clear that even if the company
          could get the app successfully approved and in the Office 365 app store, it would still require an administrator to purchase and deploy it.

          “Handicapped by Microsoft, we decided to take a dramatic step for such a loyal vendor, and reevaluate SharePoint as a platform.”

          • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

            The additional notes and comment from the guy add further insight, thanks.

        • williamg

          As Microsoft fades away, hopefully; their groupies will fade away sooner…

          • Richard

            But then you won’t have anyone to troll another. So what will you do with all your time?

        • Paul Yantus

          I thought Todd did a nice job of reflecting what we discussed. We saw Office 365 as an opportunity to address user issues with SharePoint that are being ignored by IT. The platform just didn’t live up to that promise.

      • Mia Grace

        Yes of course, user have choice in between the two. SharePoint and Dropbox.

    • http://www.extendedresults.com/ Patrick Husting

      Vizit made a good call because they are trying to reduce the complexity for their potential customers to install and use their solutions. Nothing wrong with that.

      We had the same issue with our Report Catalog solution. When we made it a SharePoint app, it was just so hard for customers to install and use because of the complexities of security in SPS. How the farm was setup, security, service packs, etc. So in our latest release, we made it a stand alone web application and it can be iFrame inside of SPS or even other collaboration portals.

    • Paul Yantus

      SharePoint became popular because Microsoft offered it for free and users were given free reign for spinning up sites. Flash forward a few years and IT steps in and starts putting all kinds of controls on what the users are doing. At the same time Dropbox, Box, and many others take off like rockets. File sharing remains popular, but SharePoint’s growth has slowed down while others have tremendous velocity.

      I agree they aren’t 1:1 comparisons, but a lot of what users were doing in the early days of SharePoint they are now doing with their Dropbox. IT might not like it, but it is today’s reality.

      • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

        True, they’re also doing it with Amazon cloud platforms, Google Apps, etc, as well as SkyDrive, Office 365, Yammer/Mingle, etc.

        • Paul Yantus

          Yes, and we intend to support all of them with the Clipsi platform. Our goal is to enable a user to clip from files and web sites. We did Dropbox first because they have the largest customer base.

          I recently sat in a room of business executives and someone asked the question “how many of you have Dropbox?” Approximately 80% of the room raised their hands. Their market penetration is incredible.

          If business users have all their needs met with SharePoint why would they be adopting these solutions at this rate?

  • SquakMtn

    I think this more of a story about the corporate enterprise IT’s struggle with BYOD. The lightweight app market on portable devices has circumvented may years of carefully crafted security models. Yes, 80% of the Business Executives in the room (were they all tech start-ups?) had drop box. But those same execs will be crying when the either a) have their IP stolen and lose business or b) get their butts sued for leaked market critical information or customer personal data. When it comes to security, TANSTAAFL

  • alliancetekinc

    SharePoint and Drop box both are different
    platform. Dropbox use to cloud storage, file synchronization it allows users to
    create a special folder on each of their computers when SharePoint are used to comprises
    a multipurpose set of Web technologies backed by a common technical
    infrastructure

    http://sharepoint.alliancetek.com