Well, it has been doubted lately but Microsoft has finally spilled the beans on the next on-premise version of SharePoint. Office General Manager Julia White has posted the news under the title "Evolution of SharePoint" on the Office Blogs few days ago and it has stirred the SharePoint blogosphere quite a bit.
I won't repeat Julia's post but I would like to comment a little bit on the implications of the SharePoint 2016 as it has been described in it. In one of my prior blog posts I speculated about the future of SharePoint, and I can see that I haven't been too misguided.
The SharePoint Continuum
One of the most striking things in Julia's post is this diagram that illustrates the new SharePoint landscape. It has "blue" on-premise pieces and "orange" cloud pieces, connected with the arrow that says "Hybrid". I have named it "The SharePoint Continuum" (but without Q, for these Trek-leaning among you)
For me it's one of the most important clarifications in Microsoft messaging to the SharePoint customers in the last couple of years. It shows that Office 365 is not there to replace, but to complement your on-premise capabilities. It took me some time to get this message clear, and I can imagine how out-of-the-blue statements and unclear announcements made this easy to understand for the IT business decision makers (sarcasm intended).
So, now that we know that the next SharePoint Server will be there and it will connect, let's make an educated guess about what it will bring to us. (Later, when I re-read this post in the light of Ignite announcements, I will check how clear my crystal ball was in making it).
What should IT Pros expect?
I am absolutely sure that IT Pros will have A LOT to learn about how to seamlessly integrate SharePoint Server 2016 with the experiences offered by Office 365. Now that Azure Active Directory (AAD) is emerging as "the" authority for hybrid scenarios for authentication and authorization, the roadmap and the guidance for enabling hybrid SharePoint experiences will become more straightforward and prescriptive. These hybrid experiences will be the lifeline that connects your on-premise environment with all the workloads that are kept "on the ground" with the exclusive experiences only available on your Office 365 tenant. Hopefully, the end user won't see the seams in between.
Another thing that SharePoint 2016 will vastly improve is the administration, monitoring and diagnostics. This is a logical assumption to make as Microsoft has undoubtedly accumulated a vast know-how about how to run SharePoint core engine as smoothly as possible. I can only imagine that SharePoint 2016 will include this in the form of helpful administration pages, automatic recommendations (a la Health Checks but tapping into Microsoft "recipe" base) and hopefully a streamlined SharePoint log management.
I'd also expect some new and streamlined farm topologies, also drawing from the experience of running Office 365 continously. I am sure that SharePoint core services and processes have been trimmed for any excess resource consumption and we should be able to benefit from it.
What should end users expect?
The end users will hopefully have a very good time with SharePoint 2016. Let me elaborate.
If you don't connect SharePoint 2016 to the cloud and keep running strictly on-premise, I expect that most of the obnoxious SharePoint annoyances to be rid of. I expect a more direct and clean UI, with prominent navigation (a la Office 365 "jumbo" bar) and deemphasized secondary options that light up as you hover. It would declutter the UI a little bit and would reduce the user distraction. I don't see revolutionary new features, but a subset of what has already been made available for Office 365. Hopefully, some of the new Cards UI or the NextGen portals interactions will trickle down to SharePoint 2016.
Once your SharePoint 2016 connects in a hybrid on-premise/cloud farm, I expect that the end users won't be aware of the change. They will consume "the experiences", irrespective of where they are coming from. If SharePoint experts help design seamless navigation and information architecture, I can hardly wait to see hybrid environments where SharePoint does its best: run behind the scenes and out of spotlight.
The Groups experience is the new overarching "concept" that includes a site, email group, social group, common files and so on. I expect the UI to further deemphasize "sites" and "lists" terminology to favour "groups" and "apps".
As for social, the message is clear: Yammer is the only official way forward. The on-premise social capabilities will stay at SharePoint 2013 level (as per Jeff Teper's post at SPC14).
In Search capabilities, I expect hybrid search on-premise/cloud to work without any jarring discrepancies. New display templates inspired in Delve UI could only mean icing on the cake.
I really hope for InfoPath replacement codenamed FoSL (Forms on SharePoint Lists) to be there, but there have been no news about it since it was previewed at SPC14. I wouldn't bet on it but maybe it will make the way to the SP2016 code.
However, I also can see a few SharePoint Out-of-the-Box capabilities disappearing. For instance, Business Intelligence capabilities will most probably be replaced by the new free PowerBI tier and somehow linked to the powerful cloud BI. PerformancePoint Services? Dead end.
What should developers expect?
I have to admit that my developer community will be the one facing most changes, but they will be good ones. As much as the shift from the full-trust code to cloud app model (or FTM to CAM, to keep Microsoft three-letter-acronym, TLA, strategy in place) is painful, it is also exciting. We will be forced to get out of the cozy SharePoint development box we have been living since the beginning.
I don't drink app Kool-Aid and I certainly see the painful shortcomings of the new model. But, I have to admit that the Office 365 PnP Guidance is steadily evolving and the gaping API holes in CSOM are being patched. We will have to keep unearthing them and make enough noise so they keep being fixed.
The app model is not going to follow sandboxed code or auto-hosted apps, it will be the backbone of the unified SharePoint development model. I expect the manual steps in the development workflow to become streamlined (being honest, typing AppRegNew.aspx manually is a major PITA inconvenience). The AAD authentication and authorization with OAuth will take the place of ACS middleware, and I also expect high-trust apps to add a few refinements too.
The Office 365 API "abstracts" SharePoint, Exchange and OneDrive into Files, Contacts, Calendar and other business-like entities. I expect this "development continuum" to keep evolving:
- Azure Active Directory (AAD) as the one-stop authentication and authorisation gate
- Office 365 API as a task-oriented, high-level API for our apps
- SharePoint CSOM/REST API as implementation detail, low-level API for our apps
- And, of course, SharePoint full-trust server object model for these things we still can't run in the cloud
As I said, developers will also have exciting times with the new SharePoint 2016. And the best thing is that the most of the playing pieces are already available on Office 365 and SharePoint 2013, so that we can future-proof our developments now.
In the official announcement of SharePoint 2016 few days ago I can find confirmation (of what I was thinking will happen) and clarification (of the message to the SharePoint community). I can't wait to see what new scenarios we will be building on these new foundations.
The sky cloud is the limit!
What do YOU think? Leave a comment to join the discussion!