Last week, C5 Insight attended the annual SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas.  It was a very full and eventful week, which was the primary reason I did not blog each evening on the daily events as I have in the past.  My goal for this blog post is to summarize the overall conference highlights and some of the features that we see as very promising in SharePoint 2013.

  1. Microsoft can throw a party
    If you are passionate about SharePoint and have never attended a SharePoint Conference, please start now, convincing your boss that you should go next year.

  2. Just Enough New Stuff
    There are definitely some new "features" in this version of SharePoint, but in the grand scheme of things, not a whole lot has changed (PS - we think that's a good thing).
    Now, please don't get me wrong or misquote me; it would take many blogs to cover the new and exciting things in SharePoint 2013 (there will be a ton of blogs on social alone).  What I mean by this statement is that unlike in SharePoint 2010, where we had a huge uptick in new functionality such as Social (activity feeds, note board, ratings), Document Sets, Document Routing, new Shared Service Architecture, Dialogs, Status and Notification Frameworks, Client-side Object Model, Managed Metadata, etc., etc., SharePoint 2013 builds upon this great leap that 2010 established, and makes it more stable, more scalable and more flexible.  I'll hit on some of the new things that we like below, but to us, we see a nice balance between new functionality and improvements to what was already present in 2010.  We also think this will help with user adoption going to 2013 and for sure, governance plans will not have to be completely re-written (though depending on enabled features, there will need to be some significant updates to it).

  3. Everything's an App
    One of the newest terms that you will run across is 2013 the idea of an "App".  In SharePoint 2013, they aren't called "lists" or "libraries" but rather an App.  This means that every type of list, including document libraries, etc. are now officially called Apps.  The concept of an App is a good one, and long overdue.  Organizations will have "App Stores" for the enterprise, and Administrators can purchase Apps from 3rd party vendors, Microsoft or you can write your own.  Once they are in your "store", (certain) users can then install and use the app.  In the case of lists and libraries, these are at the core of SharePoint, and thus installed by default on all implementations.


  4. Social Finally Adds Real Business Value
    I won't say it's perfect - what is - but in 2013 there have been A LOT of changes to the overall social architecture and framework that make it MUCH better.  I think all most would agree that there was a lot of excitement anticipating the social features in 2010, but they did leave a lot to be desired.  In 2013, social acts a lot more like the big three social platforms that you are accustomed to - LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.  To accomplish this "real time" social interaction, a ton was done behind the scenes such as re-architecting the entire user/social DB structures to accommodate many-to-many relationships across all social artifacts (without degrading performance) as well as adding a new caching layer managed by the Distributed Cache service.

    With these architectural changes, you can now "follow" the things that you'd like to monitor across your organization, and a true push vs. pull model is finally taking shape.  The "old school" way of doing this was to use alerts, but how do you put an alert on an entire site?  How do you put an alert on everything that a user does (Activity Feeds in 2010 tried to do this)?  By following any of the four entities - user, document, site or tag - you can now have information pushed to you when something changes with the entity.  As you follow entities, it also puts this in your Newsfeed so that others can see what you are following as they may want to follow it as well.  For us, each client gets a SharePoint Site Collection, so being able to follow an entire client site is pretty powerful.

    Lastly, we heard a lot more about the Yammer strategy.  We've been using Yammer internally for a while now, and have some basic integration taking place, but as heavy users and implementers of Dynamics CRM (MSCRM) as well as SharePoint, we were seeing silos of information being built before our eyes.  MSCRM had it's own version of activity feeds and following, SharePoint had this concept as well, and then there's Yammer that was much more like Facebook.  We use each of these for different things, but having a single "social layer" to bridge these was a custom/manual process. We finally got some answers and understand that Yammer will be this new social layer.  It's not there yet, and you have to keep in mind that these products were developed before the acquisition, but it will come, and I believe it will come soon (2013).

    Courtesy of Jim Patterson and Drew Dillon, Yammer

  5. Client Side Rendering (CSR)
    CSR is a brand new concept in 2013.  There's some good info out there now on this, and there is going to be a lot more soon, but in essence all controls in 2013 are now rendered client-side by writing the actual data to the controls using JSON.  The content is then displayed using a combination of JavaScript, CSS, and CSR Templates. This is vastly different from the past, where CAML, XML and XSLT ruled the world.  What it means for the community is that the SharePoint IT Pros out there, that once did much of this in SharePoint Designer using XSLT and Data/List View Web Parts will now need to be more fluent in JavaScript and CSS.  Good thing our Solution Architects at C5 Insight are ahead of the curve on these technologies. :)  I was skeptical - very - but having sat through a few sessions and talking to members of the product team and community, I believe there is real promise for this technology.  There is certainly much flexibility and control over how content is rendered on the page, and various design techniques can be used to get the exact look and behavior you want.  To whet your appetite, since this is done entirely in JavaScript, you can render fields and/or data using real-time data lookups and alternate data sources.  This was nearly impossible in the XSLT world (without a lot of work).

  6. Shredded Storage
    According to Microsoft's Bill Baer, "Shredded Storage is a new data platform improvement in SharePoint 2013 related to the management of large binary objects (I.e. BLOBs such as Microsoft PowerPoint Presentations, Microsoft Word Documents, etc.)." You can read a lot more about this, and to the typical end user it doesn't matter, but for administrators, this will make management of large files much easier (and smaller) in the SharePoint databases.

  7. Better Mobile Support
    Native apps - Microsoft has said that native apps for Windows Phone and iOS will be out next year.  I'm not sure if this is a big deal, but it could be better than having to buy a 3rd party app for SharePoint as we do today.
    Device Channels - Device channels allow you to specify specific devices/browsers that your users may utilize to access SharePoint, and design/apply custom master pages and branding for these specific channels.  So whether you want to target an Intermec CN3 handheld device or the new iPhone 5, you can easily do this with SharePoint 2013, and not have to leave the rendering to fate.


  8. Upgrading
    There are three important points that I'd like to make on upgrading to SharePoint 2013:
    1. You can't upgrade from 2007 to 2013.  If you are on 2007 you have to upgrade to 2010 and then to 2013
    2. The only supported upgrade method to 2013 is attaching the databases; in-place upgrades are not support going to 2013.
    3. And finally, what we think is a really nice feature, after upgrading your databases using the DB attach method, the data is upgraded but the user interface is not.  We like this a lot, and it allows you to perform the upgrade "behind the scenes" to get your databases and servers on 2013, but users would be none the wiser.  Then, farm administrators or site collection administrators can upgrade the Site Collections using a self-service model.  This is officially called Deferred Site Collection Upgrade.  Lastly, there is even a site collection health checker, which will allow each site collection to be reviewed for any issues, prior to upgrading the site to 2013.  We like this a lot.


  9. In Memoriam
    Last but not least, we wanted to pay tribute to just a few features that did not survive the SharePoint evolution (there are more…).
    1. SP Workspace - It was here for only a season, but now this has been replaced by SkyDrive Pro
    2. Upload PowerPoint Theme for site - This was a feature that was cool,but I'm not quite sure how many people used it.  It basically let you upload a branded PowerPoint template to SharePoint, and it would create a theme using the colors, etc.
    3. ActiveX - ActiveX has been removed from the product and HTML5 and other modern Web standards are now the norm throughout 2013.  I'm not sure if this is 100% complete, but I'd venture to say it's 98% complete (and 100% complete for the big annoyances in 2007 and 2010 like the datasheet view).
    4. SharePoint Designer (SPD) Design View - This one puzzles me a bit, but time will tell, but it is a reality that SPD 2013 no longer has a design view, but only a code view.  Referring back to #5 above, IT Pros still have plenty of work around the UI, but they probably need to make sure they're current on JavaScript, CSS, and related technologies.

To close, this is no way an exhaustive list.  Within each of these (an outside of these) there are numerous more features and functionality in 2013.  Install it and begin to learn all about it.  We believe it's a great step in the right direction.