Today Microsoft revealed “The future of SharePoint” in a dedicated event. There was some hyping in the weeks towards this as you might expect, so everyone including me was sitting tight to hear what was coming. I watched the entire presentation and although there were some very awesome things in there, I can’t help feeling not overly enthused. Yet.
I’m not going to recap the event here as there was already plenty of coverage on the blogosphere, Twitter and other media. I’m sure the recording will be online soon too so definitely check that out if you haven’t yet seen it.
Announce and then ship, please
The first thing that always enormously annoys me is the announcement of features that are not yet available. Although some of the things we saw today are being rolled out, the major things are not. The SharePoint app for mobile is only being released for iPhone at the moment and I am using an Android one. This is coming from the company that now owns Xamarin which actually makes it quite easy to build apps that work cross platform.
Another big thing we heard about first tonight was the SharePoint Framework, a client-based framework targeted towards developers who want to extend SharePoint’s out of the box capabilities. That’s the stuff that gets me fired up! Unfortunately we didn’t really get that much information about what you can really DO with it. There seem to be some blogs on the topic, but none with actual code in them it seems. So be warned: don’t get excited yet because the SharePoint framework is not released yet. So you cannot play with any of this until H2 2016, which could mean it doesn’t show until December.
You get the idea here. There was quite some “roadmap” stuff and even when it’s in the near future, waiting is just annoying. If you take a look at what’s actually being release now, it was a pretty boring presentation.
NextGen portals? InfoPath? Yammer?
Part of the excitement in the last weeks was mainly because these last years there wasn’t that much buzz around SharePoint. Some even argued “SharePoint” might be dead, replaced by “Sites” in Office365. The returning of Jeff Teper to the team promised some more action and that is what we got today. SharePoint is very much alive again and thus the Sites tile is being renamed to SharePoint again. Great! But there were some soar topics that were not discussed.
I noticed Benjamin Niaulin tweet about how Flow and PowerApps might fill in the functional gap left behind by InfoPath.
InfoPath? Designer? It's no replacement but I think most of the problems we were solving can be done w/ PowerApps & Flow #FutureofSharePoint
— Benjamin Niaulin (@bniaulin) May 4, 2016
And while I partially agree, we should not forget the milions of InfoPaths forms around the globe that get left behind when Microsoft doesn’t provide a solid replacement and migration path. You need to tell these folks something, Microsoft. Even if you’re not doing any replacement any more: tell them so they can start considering the alternatives! Instead, it appears Microsoft thinks that problem will just disappear over time or something. Which is probably true, but also comes with a dent in the image of the product. I know lots of users who dislike the word “SharePoint” based on their previous experience with the product, we should try to fix & prevent that.
Kind of the same goes for Yammer, enough said about that one I guess. I do want to point out “NextGen Portals” which have been presented as “the future of SharePoint” not too long ago. There would be all kinds of cool portal types and we would be able to create these ourselves, customized and well. Another topic completely untouched by today’s presentation. So I’m left clueless whether these will still come or not.
I briefly touched upon the SharePoint framework above but this one deserves a little more attention. As said, there wasn’t that much detail on what it will actually do and how it will work. Probably because it’s not finished yet. But some of the blogs by MVP’s shed a little light. Here’s some quotes from Waldeks:
“…for the first time ever, building SharePoint solutions isn’t limited to Windows and Visual Studio.”
“An important thing to keep in mind is that while customizations built using the SharePoint Framework work on both new and old sites, SharePoint Add-ins work only with old sites. “
What whut? Add-ins stop to work on new sites? Assuming the new team site we saw in the demos is “a new site”, this is a huge thing: your add-ins will not work on new team sites! Team sites! The foundation of pretty much every SharePoint environment out there! We are just a few years in since transitioning from the WSP development model to Add-ins, and now AGAIN we’re left with technology that appears to have been (they didn’t say it out loud yet) deprecated. Great!
As you can see, I’m not yet sold on what we saw. That’s also partly due to the fact that this event seemed to have been highly coordinated. Pretty much all of the MVP’s I follow had blog posts standing by which were published on almost exactly the same time as the event began. That tells me that Microsoft has been orchestrating this thing in a big way, which in my opinion shouldn’t be necessary when you have really cool stuff to show. Those blog posts are also – without exception – all positive. I have yet to see one critical note (so here it is). Normally I’d check Dan Holme’s feed for healthy criticism, but since he joined Microsoft I guess that’s not going to happen any more either.
No matter how cool some of the new stuff is; it’s still uncool to not own up to the problems of the platform and making sure that no one get’s left behind. And as a solution architect, I’m now left with even more dilemma’s then before. I have a customer who’s gonna build a huge portal on top of SharePoint 2016. We we’re on the path of mixing SharePoint add-ins with client-side build functionality. So do I now drop the add-ins in favor of the new SharePoint Framework? I cannot decide that until I’ve had a go with these bits which is not possible since they’re not here yet. The future of Sharepoint is cloudy, but whether that’s a good thing? I’m not sure. Yet.