Sep 2016
Sharepoint online

SharePoint Online Team Sites – one step closer to SharePoint Framework

Microsoft recently began rolling out new SharePoint Online Team Site capabilities. It includes a new editing canvas, integration with Groups and a bunch of new style apps.

So let’s have a look at the latest SharePoint Online Team Sites offering.  I’ll give you the low-down on some fun new features I’m really looking forward to seeing in action.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, it’s worth noting Microsoft advises these new features are being rolled out to Team Sites. Those of you with Document Centre or Visio Repository sites may have noticed the new List and Library features (let’s all cheer for inline metadata) but as for the newer stuff (Canvas, homepage etc.), you may need to hold on a little longer.

Groups and Team site integration

SharePoint Groups and Team sites are now intrinsically linked.  Why is that important to me? Straight off the bat when a new Group is provisioned so too is a mailbox, calendar, and OneNote notebook, and most importantly a Team Site with the new and very funky homepage. A new Group Membership is also created allowing you to easily see members of a site and the security applied to that group.

So what is new about Team sites?sp2

  • The Team Site homepage now focuses on the team/group’s recent and relevant content and activity including Outlook conversations. The standard easy to use SharePoint navigation remains but a new “Group Card” has been added containing links to group specific content such as the Calendar.
  • Quick links app is essentially an editable list of links that behaves just like your browser favourites but it now sits on the Team Site homepage. The snazzy thing is that the links can now be added to files, pages or apps – not just within the Team Site but anywhere on the web.
  • New page “Canvas” makes it easier to add pages with dynamic and visually engaging content using a more end-user friendly (if a little clunky) toolbox. No Ribbons – can you believe it?!
  • New “Highlighted Content” web part lets you set criteria so that specific content will automatically and dynamically populate in that area of the page.
  • New “Client“ web parts use the new SharePoint Framework (this is cool if you’re a developer). Think of this like JSLink but all grown up. The SharePoint Framework brings SharePoint development more in-line with the rest of the development world (using JavaScript, TypeScript, Gulp etc.).

Modern SharePoint lists

This is huge for end-users who aren’t comfortable editing lists and has already been rolled out to existing Team Sites.

  • The new SharePoint List now easily allow users to add columns to lists, sort, filter and group from within the List View.
  • Quick edit, which has always been available, is now more easily enabled to allow for inline and bulk editing.
  • Enriched data types have been added making static information just that little bit more palatable.
  • Editing lists on a mobile is now far more elegant as is the case with the rest of the improved mobile responsiveness with this release.

Document Libraries

The new Document Library features have already been applied to existing Team Sites, but here’s the shortlist:

  • ‘Pin to top’ adds important documents to the top of the screen
  • Changes to the copy and move gesture are more intelligent about displaying metadata and file location in real time
  • Import files from other libraries as links without duplicating the document
  • Document metadata is now available inline
  • The list view is customisable allowing users to sort, group and change column sizes and save that view.

PowerApps and Microsoft Flow

PowerApps is built for any device.  Users can now create and share business apps, including building forms and apps directly from a List.

Microsoft Flow automates workflow and data exchange between SharePoint and a fairly large list of other Microsoft and 3rd party services (including Exchange, SQL, Google, Twitter and more).  With Flow fully integrated with PowerApps, it’s easier for companies to automate business workflows. For simple workflows this could be a game changer for many companies. In my view, those with complex workflows should continue to rely on 3rd party products (for example, Nintex).

But wait, there’s more!

The new Team Sites have a far more responsive design and will work and play more nicely on mobile devices.

The site contents page will also see a lick of paint offering high level insights into site usage and easy access to the most used content.

The site collection storage limit has been increased from 1 TB to 25TB across all site collections, not just team sites. Cool, right? Sure. But don’t let this go to your head! You should still be careful not to neglect your content retention and archival policies (yes, you should have them). Nobody likes a messy house, and nobody likes a messy site! (Careful, my OCD is showing)

That all sounds kinda cool…… right?

Absolutely. There are some really exciting features and capabilities here for non-developers, but a few losses for developers in the short term.

  • New web parts can be used in “classic” pages, but not vice-versa. So you can’t use existing web parts (even existing out-of-the-box web parts) in new pages.
  • The loss of using JSLink will disappoint some developers, but this will in-turn force an evolution with more developers having to get on board the SharePoint Framework train sooner rather than later.
  • For now, the new Team Sites are not able to inherit existing custom themes. Custom master pages are obviously . Companies that provide custom themes for SharePoint have thus far been pretty quiet on how they intend to handle this limitation. Existing Team Sites using themes or custom master pages can continue to use them as per Microsoft’s advice – “know that existing team sites with custom theming applied won’t be touched”. Microsoft discourages the use of custom master pages for Team Sites in general (about which we could debate the pros and cons for hours) and this feels like they are finally putting their foot down. You can still use ‘composed looks’ and CSS to maintain site wide branding and colour schemes, but for now you’ll be using the standard master pages.

Highlights of this release

  • SharePoint Group integration and default provisioning of new Team Site
  • New editing Canvas and SharePoint Framework based apps
  • Microsoft Flow and PowerApp allowing users to create apps and workflows in the browser
  • New SharePoint List and Document Library features skewed to end-user functionality
  • Better mobile experience (and let’s face it, who’s not happy about that?)
  • Increased site collection storage from 1Tb to 25Tb
  • Microsoft’s concerted effort to push (or gently nudge) developers toward using SharePoint Framework

So that’s the low-down on the new SharePoint Online Team Sites. Some fun new features and a welcome leap by Microsoft into the big wide scary world of Open Source integration, freeing us just a little bit from the shackles of proprietary software. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing it action and if I were you… I‘d be getting ready now…

I’d welcome your comments on the above, particularly any upsides or downsides you see in the new features.

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