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SharePoint Virtual Summit Round-up

Today Microsoft broadcast the SharePoint Virtual Summit event. I was privileged enough to be invited to attend the filming of this event in Redmond and discuss some of the new features being showcased with the product group. Following up from the hype and excitement that the May 4th event generated last year was always going to be a tough act and I look forward to seeing how this event is received. 

This year we saw a number of announcements from the Build conference sharing the stage too. Personally I’m rather excited by some of the developer-centric items but there’s a ton of new features which will appeal to both end users and administrators. The growth in usage of the Office 365 eco-system shouldn’t surprise anyone as it is simply the most comprehensive suite of tools for collaboration and communication in the enterprise space. That said I was shocked by the growth in use of Yammer.

A new successor to the Publishing Site?

Microsoft showed us a new type of site in Office365, the Communication Site. This appears to be the ‘Modern’ evolution of the classic, and much used, Publishing Site. First of all, this thing looks great! It has a clean, modern page with full bleed hero content that can be easily configured. This modern site template gives users an easy way to aggregate content from across their various team sites.

Office 365 - Communication Site

One little gem that I spotted which might have flown under the radar a little was the capability to use a multi-column layout! This has been a sticking point for migrating some of the work we had been doing in classic sites into modern sites and pages. It’s nice to see the modern experiences moving towards feature parity with the classic sites.

PowerApps is the InfoPath replacement we need

Remember when Microsoft killed InfoPath? Yep, me too. So many power users left without a good path forward for creating custom editing experiences for their users. We’ve had PowerApps for a while giving power users the tools to create mobile and web interfaces over their data without the need to write code directly.

Office 365 PowerApps

What we saw was the next logical extension of the feature set for PowerApps, the ability to create custom forms for SharePoint-based data. A custom edit form rendered in a fly-out pane, this is a welcome addition to further empower citizen developers. Couple this with the improvements to Microsoft Flow which unlock approval processes and custom workflows there is a great story for using SharePoint as a place to collaborate and digitize business process at the end user level.

Selective sync is back with OneDrive Files On-Demand

This news broke at Build last week, but OneDrive Files On-Demand is Microsoft delivering on a much requested feature. In addition to the ability to just pull down the files that you need on a given device there are improved administrative controls and sharing experiences. Many organizations should be pleased by the new domain based white and black listing and the link expiration policies. The improvements to the sharing UI should reduce the friction for end-users.

On-premises gets the love too!

Jeff Teper made two announcements that those with on-premises deployments will welcome. First of all there will be a new version of SharePoint Server which is to be released next year. Second, the next feature pack for SharePoint 2016 will provide support for the SharePoint Framework, aka SPFx, the new development model which allows developer to leverage modern web development techniques for building customizations.

About that developer stuff

This, again, is news that was largely broken at Build but it’s still worth mentioning. There are a number of new capabilities coming to SPFx giving developers greater control over the SharePoint UI. The Application Customizer lets developers control what is rendered in a number of pre-defined areas of the page. For those of us who have been doing SharePoint development for a while the best analogy I have is that we have a client-side delegate control. This is very powerful as it will unlock the ability to add things like custom global navigation in a supported way, this should spell an end to service updates breaking these types of customization in future.

The goodness doesn’t end there, we also have a replacement for JSLink for custom field rendering with Field Customizers. In the demo that Dan Holme showed this was used to provide some simple bar rendering to visualize stock levels but you can do so much more, for example you could pass this off to Cognitive Services to provide sentiment analysis or translation based on the language preferences of the current user.

The future is bright in the cloud

I’m thrilled to see that the SharePoint team have been working hard to improve life citizen developers and power users, some of the most ardent supporters of the SharePoint platform over the years. Now while it’s clear that feature will be landing in the online offerings first and the future is brightest in the cloud the on-premises story is now much clearer. It’s an exciting time to be working in the SharePoint and Office365 space.

Posted by: Gavin Barron, Solution Architect | 17 May 2017

Tags: SharePoint

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