In September at the Microsoft Ignite conference, Microsoft made several SharePoint-related announcements. The most central was, of course, the first feature pack for SharePoint 2016, which is now available for download. Although Feature Pack 1 got the most attention, Microsoft made other announcements that paint a picture of what we can expect from SharePoint features over the next year.
These changes to the SharePoint document and collaboration platform reflect Microsoft's focus on a cloud-first, mobile-first universe, in which users can access content from anywhere, at any time, and won't have to jump through as many hoops to access that content. Like other enterprise content management vendors, Microsoft has come to realize that an application is only as good as its adoption rate. If users avoid the application because it's hard to use, it may well be the death knell to that application's success in due time.
Many of the SharePoint-related announcements that Microsoft made at the Ignite conference were related to OneDrive, which is the cloud-based storage service that is included in Office 365, the cloud-based suite of services. OneDrive has gotten a major makeover, with most of the new capabilities being released before the end of 2016. Among these new capabilities is the ability for SharePoint users to sync SharePoint Online document libraries (as well as shared OneDrive folders). Microsoft is also making it easier to monitor the file sync process via a new activity center, which will provide users with information about files and about the synchronization process.
Another anticipated enhancement is the ability for users to access all SharePoint Online files and folders (as well as files and folders that have been shared with them) through the OneDrive browser experience. By using the browser, users can access, edit and even share files.
One of Microsoft's biggest cultural changes under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella has been the move to embrace industry standards. This philosophy plays directly into OneDrive. Microsoft is revamping OneDrive to provide native support for various non-Microsoft file types. For example, OneDrive users will be able to natively preview Adobe Photoshop files without having to download the file. Microsoft has committed to continuously adding support for new file types. Incidentally, if a user needs to download files from OneDrive, he or she can select multiple files and download them as a zip file. Additional OneDrive improvements are discussed here.
Another new addition to the SharePoint features is people cards. People cards let users access information about coworkers without leaving the application in which they are currently working. People cards already exist in Outlook, but Microsoft is adding them to SharePoint Online team sites, libraries, lists and OneDrive for Business.
When a user sees another user's name displayed in SharePoint Online, the cloud-based version of SharePoint, he or she can click on that name to display the user's people card. The information displayed on the people card will likely vary from one organization to the next, but may include basic contact information, the user's position within the company's organizational chart, group memberships and possibly even the documents that the user has worked on recently. A Microsoft blog post outlines improvements to user profiles and people cards.
Microsoft is adding a team news feature to SharePoint Online. As its name implies, the team news function helps update team members on organizational news and project highlights. In essence, the feature is like having a blog dedicated to a SharePoint team site. Team members can use the team news web part to publish project updates, announcements, policy updates or other relevant news. The latest team news is prominently displayed on the team site's homepage.
The SharePoint mobile app
In recent years, one of Microsoft's core philosophies has been, "cloud first, mobile first:" that is, designing SharePoint features and applications so that they work equally well in the cloud and on mobile devices, so that such features might be expected to work in on-premises environments or on desktop computers. In keeping with this philosophy, Microsoft released a SharePoint mobile app in June 2016. However, the SharePoint mobile app was only available for iOS, leaving some to speculate that Microsoft had created the app solely as a way of improving the experience of accessing SharePoint from iOS devices. Recently, however, Microsoft has announced SharePoint mobile apps for Android and Windows 10 Mobile devices.
Although the SharePoint mobile app has limits regarding its capabilities, it does allow for basic SharePoint usage, including navigating sites, using Activity View to see recent activity, and accessing information about other users and what they are working on. Perhaps more useful is the ability to open SharePoint document libraries and download and edit Office documents. Additionally, the SharePoint mobile app allows users to search the organization for people, files and sites. This blog post on the mobile app features more detail.
Microsoft is currently previewing or rolling out significant updates to SharePoint Online and SharePoint 2016. A roundup of improvements is available. Despite the vast number of new SharePoint features that are being introduced, Microsoft will likely introduce many more new features over the next year. Some of the Microsoft blogs seem to hint at the possibility that a second feature pack may eventually be announced.
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