SharePoint 2013 Tweaks the Model

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Have you been playing with the SharePoint 2013 preview? What are your initial thoughts? That is, aside from the slick metro styling, deep office integrations and drag and drop capability, streamlined editing (the ugly context menu is fading away, my friends), and even a simplified ribbon interface – what stands out most to you? SharePoint 2010 was altogether a successful platform, but with the move toward the cloud, the influx of devices into the enterprise, and the “consumerization” of IT where end users drive the demand for what data and which tools are used to consume information. Microsoft listened to feedback from their customers, they made some decisions about the future of the platform, and they most definitely did something different. SharePoint 2013 is a platform of change. Its important to understand the real changes happening under the covers, impacting the direction of future versions – and most definitely your roadmap for using SharePoint going forward.

Of course, this is my blog, so its my opinion. You definitely need to get out there and do some reading, understand the future impacts to your systems and your end user, administrator, and developer skill sets to ensure you are prepared.

Most of the change, in my view, centers around four key areas:

  1. A simplification of SharePoint Designer. On the positive side, there is more robust workflow with the revamped SPDesigner. It just got easier to use SPDesigner, and at the same time a lot less powerful. I interpret this as an intentional shift to refocus the tool for business users, as it was heading down the pathway of becoming a complex developer tool. Microsoft could have kept adding capability, making it a very popular solution for developers and designers, but moving further away from business users – which is where the focus should remain. There have been a couple great posts from Marc Anderson and Asif Rehmani and others on the deprecated capability in SPD2013 re: the removal of the design view. According to Microsoft, this had more to do with support issues in newer versions of IE and HTML5, but the lack of content (or a response) from Microsoft leads me to believe this is an intentional change to gut SPD, and keep business users and developers separated (the latter using Visual Studio rather than SPD).
  2. A move from the sandbox to the app model. Sandboxed Solutions are not deprecated in SharePoint 2013, which is to say they still work, but there is no new capability, nothing being expanded upon. The sandbox is being emptied out in the long-term, so take your pail and shovel elsewhere to play. The new model to think about is building apps that can be downloaded/consumable from an app marketplace – well, multiple marketplaces. What is an app? From Microsoft’s website: “It’s best described as a solution that carries a light footprint and uses standards-based technologies such as HTML5, JavaScript, and OAuth.” This is a key component to the consumerization of IT premise, where end users can download the apps they want and need, giving them the power over what content they consume, and how they consume it. It’s a great new distribution model, allowing a developer to make an app available to a closed group (a private marketplace) or to the entire world (through Microsoft’s marketplace – and eventually other partner marketplaces).
  3. A focus on web development and design. This is more than just an expansion of existing branding tools to modify a SharePoint site, but a complete redesign (I’m being cheeky). With the new Design Manager, you can create centralized design assets – and use the editor of your choice to design master pages in HTML, connecting your design tool to SharePoint. What makes this change enormous is that it opens up the SharePoint stack to developers and designers who never thought they’d work in SharePoint. Any time you want to make a change to a master page design, edit with your favorite tool and refresh your SharePoint sites without SharePoint developer expertise. Pretty slick features.
  4. The move toward the "online first" paradigm. This is actually a Microsoft-wide effort to increase the speed of deployment if products and platforms, but for SharePoint specifically, it has the potential to dramatically increase the rate of change within the platform. Hot fixes have always been fairly quick on turnaround, sure, but more to the point is the rapid delivery of entire new feature sets. By focusing on the online versions first, soon there will be parity between on prem and online versions, and in the not-too-far-distant future, new features will be available through SharePoint Online and Office365 weeks or months before they find their way into on prem. This model is necessary as Microsoft’s business shifts toward the cloud due to both competition and the evolving requirements of end users.

Of course, there is also the dark horse of the 2013 release in the Yammer acquisition. I am not yet including it on the list above because, frankly, we don’t know yet what integrations and new capability will be made available – either in the RTM release, or in future versions. Microsoft has stated that they will run the companies separately, allowing Microsoft to invest in (and try to get their brain around) the freemium model at which Yammer excels. But Redmond is remaining tight-lipped about what degree of integration will be coming out in time for the SharePoint conference in Las Vegas this November, much less what will be in pace for RTM (whenever that happens). Social is a critical aspect of SharePoint’s future, and I’m sure I’ll be writing much more on the topic as Microsoft starts revealing their plans.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.