The question I get the most these days is, "what is this modern SharePoint you keep talking about?" It might sound like an oxymoron! All my SharePointy friends know about it, and debate the finer points over beer at SharePint, but to the casual user, or someone who's been working on premises, it may be a bit of a mystery. It's only available online (at the time of this writing anyway), and is slowly being phased in as developers build it out.
So here it is: Microsoft is on a mission to modernize SharePoint, to save it from fading into obscurity as a once innovative but now persnickety old war horse of a product. This article will explain how they're doing it, and why you might want to take a fresh look on this stalwart collaboration product.
SharePoint's "classic" user interface was introduced in late 2002. Since then, new features have been layered on top, staying within the constraints of that original foundation. Unlike guitars and whiskey, software doesn't improve with age. As a SharePoint consultant, clients often asked me to make it look like "anything but SharePoint".
A SharePoint Intranet arrived in pieces, like the parts of a house delivered to a building site, leaving customers to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars putting them together. Of course there will always be value in helping to design an Intranet that fits an organization's business and culture, but all too much time was spent applying arcane customization techniques that had accumulated over the years.
Microsoft was at a crossroads: overhaul the aging collaboration product, or watch it die a slow and painful death. So last year they started phasing in new "modern" SharePoint pages based on up-to-date web technology. These pages, and sites built from them, remove decades of frustration and are a pleasure to use.
Here is one of the modern sites, a Communication site, which would be used for publishing information on an Intranet. No customization or advanced configuration was needed. It would have taken a lot of work to make a classic SharePoint site look like this! Moreover, the site automatically adapts to a narrow phone screen, keeping the page readable without sideways scrolling on any screen size.
Modern SharePoint is a whole new user experience. It's more than a fresh look, it's designed from the ground up to work on mobile devices, and it addresses dozens of nagging usability issues. So far, modern SharePoint exists only in SharePoint Online.
Lists and libraries have the new look; here is a classic document library next to a modern one so you can compare.
The difference is subtle, but the modern page is definitely easier to use, and allows more advanced filtering and bulk editing. Have you ever tried to move a file in SharePoint? It's nearly impossible in classic SharePoint, and is one of many things made easy in the modern version.
It's more dramatic on a small screen, like a smartphone. (The screen shot shows Chrome emulating an iPhone X).
Notice how the classic screen shrinks to fit, making for microscopic text and requiring a microscopic finger to tap. It's pretty much impossible to use. The modern screen is still fully functional; you can select files and do whatever you need to by tapping the screen with your normal sized finger.
The full impact of modern SharePoint is evident in the editable pages. This is where users can innovate by arranging web parts on a page to show just the information they want. That's a big part of SharePoint's popularity: any business user can create a web site in minutes! It's less compelling, however, if the site looks like it was designed to run on an early version of Internet Explorer. (Because … well … it was.)
To test it out, I put the same information into two team sites, one classic, one modern. Both sites have a news web part; in the classic site, the news feed has little social messages (I attached a picture); in the modern site, the news feed has SharePoint pages with news articles on them. Those articles are automatically fed into the SharePoint mobile app and SharePoint home pages. In the classic site, the calendar is stored in SharePoint and is pretty ugly, causing the dreaded horizontal scroll bar at the bottom. On the modern site, the calendar is stored in Exchange as part of an Office 365 group. Exchange calendars work much better than SharePoint calendars.
Now here are the same two pages in the iPhone X emulator:
Again, the classic page was shrunk to fit, and is way too small to use. The modern page was rearranged to fit.
In SharePoint Online, lists and libraries are modern by default; web part pages are modern if you create a "modern team site" or "communication site". You can also add new, modern pages to existing team sites (but not yet to classic "publishing sites"). Once a new page is set up, it can be set as the site home page, and the site will gain almost all the advantages of a fully modern team or communication site.
Here are some reasons to check out Modern SharePoint:
If you have an Office 365 subscription (and permission to do so), you can go modern right now! Just go to the SharePoint Home page and click "+ Create Site" to create a modern Communication or Team site.
If you have an existing site in SharePoint Online, you probably already have modern lists and libraries. If the site doesn't use the Publishing feature (such as a Team site), just create a new page (in the "Site Pages" library) and by default it will be modern. Easy peasy. This article has a lot more advice on converting sites from classic to modern.
Microsoft hasn't tackled Publishing sites … yet. There's a lot to be modernized in SharePoint!
A lot of customers are migrating to SharePoint Online to get out of the complex business of managing a SharePoint farm. It makes sense to leave that part to Microsoft, and never need to install another upgrade. But after that migration, all the SharePoint sites are still classic.
Will there be a second migration then, from classic to modern? Some enterprises may want to do that, and others may just go modern on new sites.
There are a lot of things to consider in a modern migration, especially in sites that were customized. The biggest challenge will surely be where child sites (and granchildren, etc.) are used, since modern SharePoint only works on the root of each site collection, and Microsoft is moving toward a flat, one-site-per-collection structure (see item 5 above). Maybe some of the migration companies will come up with a solution for that!
I hope this was useful, either as a way to learn about modern SharePoint, or as something to pass on to your colleagues who ask about it. It really is the most often-asked technology question I get!
Thanks for reading!
(cross-posted from Bob German's Vantage Point)
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