SharePoint 2013 Changes with the Times
It's not clear when the service will be rolled out as a final release.
The next version of SharePoint is much more of an evolution than a revolution.
Microsoft hasn't redefined its collaboration software as much as refined it with updated user interfaces, better use of metadata and increased social networking functionality.
Previews of the various Office 365 applications, served up from Microsoft's Internet cloud for the most part, were made available last month for testing. It's not exactly clear when the service will be rolled out as a final release. During a press demonstration, Jared Spataro, senior director for SharePoint product management at Microsoft, offered a quick tour of some highlights in the new SharePoint.
Spataro explained in the Q&A that Microsoft did not change the underlying architecture of SharePoint very much with this release, but it did add some upgrades and I/O performance improvements. However, based on what was shown during the demo, there also are user interface (UI) changes. Users of the new SharePoint see something like the flat, spare "Metro" or "modern" UI, except with a narrow menu bar at the top.
Quite a lot of the demo concerned the collaboration and social networking aspects of SharePoint, which are among the product's top uses, according to a Forrester Research survey. However, nothing was really said during the talk about Microsoft's Yammer acquisition, which will bring Yammer's enterprise social networking technologies across SharePoint, Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics and Skype.
In general, Microsoft has improved the metadata aspects in the new SharePoint, allowing users to tag content while posting, Spataro said. People are considered first-class objects in SharePoint. They can be followed, by SharePoint users, but it's also possible to follow documents, sites and tags across a Web site. SharePoint also points users to content based on a "suggested sites" feature. Users can hover over user profiles and get access to their contact cards, which bring in profile information, including info from LinkedIn and Facebook social networking pages.
My Site in the new SharePoint has its functionality split into three hubs: Newsfeed, SkyDrive Pro and Sites, as explained in this SharePoint team blog. The Newsfeed application has a sort of Facebook-like appearance with photos and e-mail threads, as well as a "Like" button. The Sites application is a tracker of site locations that are important to the user. SkyDrive Pro is a cloud-based storage place for files that works with SharePoint. Spataro said that SkyDrive Pro replaces what used to be called "SharePoint Documents" or "My Documents" in earlier editions, adding that it had been renamed to highlight Microsoft's investments in consumer cloud storage. Microsoft also offers a free SkyDrive service for consumers.
SkyDrive Pro Replacing SharePoint Workspaces
SkyDrive Pro provides storage, synchronization and sharing capabilities for users. Cloud-based apps will sync to the desktop app by just clicking on the desktop. There's also drag-and-drop file uploading capabilities from the desktop to the browser-based app, and even drag-and-drop capabilities within the browser-based app, which Spataro called "a new modality for people." He claimed that he works more in Web apps these days because of the richness of the applications. SkyDrive Pro works with various Office Web Apps, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
SkyDrive Pro has access to all of the new SharePoint capabilities. "All of the content manageable in SharePoint can be managed in SkyDrive Pro," Spataro said.
The fate of SharePoint Workspace (previously known as "Groove") in SharePoint 2013 got cleared up during the Q&A session. Groove was the invention of former Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, whose retirement was announced in October 2010.
"SharePoint Workspace was the way that we did document sync and offline access with the previous version of SharePoint," Spataro explained. "And in fact, SharePoint Workspace was the evolution of the Groove client. The document store, share and sync capabilities that I showed you are actually based on the next evolution of that SharePoint Workspace. We actually used the underlying component that came from Groove, part of the sync engine, to do it. And going forward, our strategy will be to focus on SkyDrive Pro that I showed you today."
He added that people can still get access to SharePoint Workspace, "but our go-forward strategy investment will be focused on SkyDrive Pro."
Team Site Gets OneNote
The Team Site is considered the "center of gravity for people in SharePoint," Spataro said, and Microsoft has enhanced it by adding a centralized OneNote built into it. OneNote is a Microsoft Office application that lets users store photos and text in a sort of digital scrapbook. The OneNote that's part of Team Site is capable of synchronization, and it can be viewed on various mobile devices with "the same rich view," Spataro contended. The Team Site also has its own newsfeed, which will sync up with a user's main Newsfeed. Users tend to use this newsfeed service as a replacement for e-mail, he added.
Spataro said that the new SharePoint is about task completion and using social interactions to do work, so there's a My Tasks interface that users can plot against a timeline. It's capable of drag-and-drop operations, so users can create a list of tasks in Excel and drop the file into tasks lists. It's possible to edit in real time and assign tasks to different people. The whole timeline is viewable in a "project summary" page. Spataro suggested this approach is an improvement over past SharePoint releases where it was "tough to track things."
There are some SharePoint business intelligence improvements enabled by SQL Server 2012. For instance, the Excel Web App can be used to display a Power View executive dashboard, which graphically displays data. It allows slice-and-dice operations to be performed using the data or the data can be plotted over time. With these capabilities, Spataro said that Microsoft is bringing together social, task management and business insights.
Lastly, Spataro pointed to the Microsoft partner ecosystem and the extra support users can get though SharePoint apps. The apps are available in the SharePoint library or they can be downloaded from the SharePoint Store.
Spataro said he left out a lot in his presentation, noting that FAST search in the new SharePoint now has e-discovery capabilities across SharePoint, Exchange and Lync file shares. Search was one of the SharePoint features that participants in Forrester's survey said they least liked. However, it's apparently improved in the new SharePoint.
An overview of the new SharePoint features was described earlier in this blog post by Jeff Teper, corporate vice president of SharePoint.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.