Inside SharePoint

Acclimating to the New SharePoint Framework

Reaction to Microsoft's new SharePoint Framework is mixed, though mostly positive because it coexists with old development models.

As many of you are aware, back in May at the Future of SharePoint event held in San Francisco, Microsoft announced a number of new features and capabilities expanding the way in which we build solutions for the SharePoint platform. As part of their product roadmap, the company announced plans to release the SharePoint Framework (SPFx), a new development model that "enables fully supported client-side development, easy integration with the Microsoft Graph and support for open source tooling."

Alongside the event, several product team blog posts were pushed live, including an article on SPFx authored by Bill Baer, senior product manager for the SharePoint team:

We designed the SharePoint Framework to empower SharePoint developers both inside and outside Microsoft. Our engineers are building our modern experiences using the SharePoint Framework. You can use the same technology, tools and techniques we use to build more productive experiences and apps that are responsive and mobile-ready from day one.

We will let our partners, our customers and our independent developers leverage the latest JavaScript frameworks like React and Angular. This model provides dramatically better experiences, performance, mobile support and more while broadening our developer ecosystem from .NET and beyond.

The SharePoint Framework and its related toolchain helps developers solve the challenges they face today. For example, we recognize people are doing script injection today. Now, with the SharePoint Framework, we have a structured approach to modern app development, end-to-end, that's not dependent on .NET.

We're enabling you to choose the framework that you want. We're evolving SharePoint extensibility to meet the needs of our developer community today and opening up opportunities in the cloud that align more closely to what our customers have on-premises.

The SharePoint Framework will be available to existing SharePoint sites, and you will be able to host client-side web parts developed with the new SharePoint Framework on existing SharePoint pages.

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 1.Modern structure.

The SharePoint Framework allows you to extend your existing tools and solutions and take advantage of exciting open source opportunities, from project scaffolding with Yeoman to iterative build-test experiences with Gulp and more. The SharePoint Framework adds to the existing, powerful development opportunities with SharePoint—from Full Trust Code on-premises to Office 365 add-ins—to bring a modern client-side approach to enable powerful portal experiences in SharePoint Online.

Of course, in the months since that May 4th announcement, Microsoft has been "dog-fooding" the SharePoint Framework by developing some of their latest features, such as the recent updates to their mobile applications, as well as the new document library and list experiences in SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business. And since the developer preview of SPFx was made available in mid-August, many members of the community have also been actively building on the framework, providing their real-world perspectives and code samples -- such as the great content being produced by MVPs like Waldek Mastykarz (definitely check out 'Everything You Need to Know About the SharePoint Framework'), Sonja Madsen, Chris O'Brien, and Elio Struyf, among others.

Community Reactions
Reactions from the community have been mixed -- mostly positive, but with Microsoft's history of changing the development story behind each major release of SharePoint, there are some valid concerns about how committed the company is to this new path. But unlike previous releases, SPFx allows customers and partners to leverage the latest JavaScipt frameworks, utilizing the tools and techniques they use outside of SharePoint. This is a major shift for SharePoint, and stems from some of the sweeping changes made as Satya Nadella took the helm at Microsoft a couple years back. Instead of the prevalent "Not Built Here" attitude of the old Microsoft, teams seem to be willing to embrace -- and improve upon -- what is working for customers. Microsoft product teams have gotten better at listening to customers, and quickly reacting to, or adopting industry best practices. As a result, SPFx is better able to support dynamic user experiences that are responsive and mobile-ready, and has the ability to reduce the cost and effort it takes to enable custom and third-party solutions to work across all devices.

In a recent #CollabTalk tweetjam, members of the SharePoint community came together to discuss the impact of the new SharePoint Framework. This forum provides a place where dissenters and supporters can come together and share ideas and experiences on a variety of collaboration topics. At the top of the agenda was whether the SharePoint Framework replaces, or coincide with, old models of SharePoint solution development. With any new release or announcement, people want to understand the impact on existing solutions and customizations, and that is where this discussion began.

Feedback from the panel was unanimous: the new SharePoint Framework does coexist with old development models. However, people will begin to replace conventional Web parts and add-ins over time. Many of the participants agreed that we will continue to see organizations developing on the current model. Organizations trying to understand the impact to budgets and training need not worry (for now), as the use of SPFx does not deprecate existing solutions. Instead, as the framework matures and people better understand its capabilities, customers will begin to enhance existing solutions and build new capabilities when and where it makes sense.

According to MVP Marc Anderson, "SPFx definitely augments what we have today. We will now see apps for the store, SPFx for the enterprise, and traditional Content Editor Web Parts for the department."

Bill Baer also jumped into the discussion, stating that "SPFx is supplemental. It provides an opportunity to extend classes of customization. It does not make obsolete the current in-market models."

What was also agreed was that the role of the SharePoint Architect becomes even more important, as organizations need to know when to use each of the models. As with any new technology, it is going to take time for people to adjust and come up to speed on the new. But add-ins were never a great replacement for full-trust code solutions, and SPFx looks promising for web parts and page compositions. Some participants commented that they planned to start including Javascript topics in their SharePoint presentations, as it will become more and more relevant.

How Much Change is Coming?
One of the big question of the day was in regard to Microsoft's oft changed dev models with each major version, and whether people think they will stick with this new model. MVP Bill Ayers quickly responded that no matter what the technology, we will experience constant change. However, he pointed out a major distinction between SPFx and past models: "Microsoft's previous mistake with Sandbox solutions was to try and mandate a model. Instead, it is better to support the tools and techniques that developers choose."

According to MVP Doug Ware, "It should be assumed that at this early date, we are a long way from SPFx in its final form. Many features in today's classic mode have to map to the new model."

The SharePoint Framework will inevitably experience change as it matures, as SharePoint and the Office 365 platform continue to evolve, and as the business requirements and customer expectations also evolve. The one difference here being that SPFx embraces the current development trends, where change is driven by industry and community rather than by a new release from Microsoft every three to four years.

The bigger issue, many of the panelists agreed, would be Microsoft not continuing the evolution based on changes within industry. There is some fear that customers could find themselves landlocked once again if Microsoft slips back into old habits. Having been involved in the SharePoint space since 2005, I can say that this time around it feels much more like a "conversation" than a release. Microsoft is putting a lot of effort into testing out the new framework with developers and partners, working through feedback and discussing their roadmap. They've already used SPFx to build out some new SharePoint experiences that have begun to roll out to customers.

When people ask the question "How much change should we expect?" my answer is that this is the direction in which Microsoft is moving. Whether or not organizations are playing with the developer preview today or not, they should educate themselves and begin planning for their future move.

I really liked a comment made by MVP Eli Robillard when he said "I'm hopeful that SPFx is the impetus for organizations to finally build once for both on-prem and the cloud."

If you missed the #CollabTalk tweetjam and would like to read more about what was discussed by the panel of experts, you can find a point-by-point summary on Storify here.

About the Author

Christian Buckley is an independent researcher, technology evangelist and Office Servers & Services MVP with more than 25 years of experience working with collaboration, social and supply chain technology.


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