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Next SharePoint Server Product Now Expected in Q2 2016

Microsoft announced today that it will slip the general availability date for its forthcoming SharePoint Server 2016 product to next year.

SharePoint 2016 will hit the market ("general availability" in Microsoft's nomenclature) in the second quarter of 2016, according to an announcement. That date represents a slip from an expected release date of the second half of 2015, as indicated back in February. No explanation for the schedule change was indicated, but Microsoft is still at the early development stage for the product.

At its Ignite event, coming next month, the company plans to show off an early version of SharePoint 2016. However, the bits likely won't be available for testing by the general public at that time. Microsoft indicated today that a public beta of SharePoint 2016 is being planned for release sometime in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Microsoft also today reiterated its commitment to developing a SharePoint Server version of the product "for the foreseeable future." At the same time, the company pointed to future "improved user experiences, cloud-inspired infrastructure, and compliance and reporting" improvements in SharePoint 2016 that largely will be enabled through the use of Office 365 services. Microsoft's cloud-based Office 365 services include hosted applications such as SharePoint Online, Skype for Business and Exchange Online.

Microsoft's message that it plans to continue the development of SharePoint Server has been repeated of late. Even a number of SharePoint MVPs recently got together to emphasize that SharePoint Server remains "alive and well." Thoughts about the possible death of SharePoint Server have floated for years, with analyst and consulting firm Gartner Inc. floating the idea. Microsoft's SharePoint development is taking place first for its cloud infrastructure with SharePoint Online. That fact has led to speculation that there could be feature gaps with the server version, and that Microsoft could opt to kill off the server version. However, Microsoft seems to be trying to debunk that speculation, at least in recent times.

User Experience Improvements
Among the improved user experiences in SharePoint 2016 will be integration between cloud and customer premises environments via Office Graph technology. Office Graph is the underlying "information fabric" that can link activities across Office 365 apps, which get surfaced in Microsoft's Delve social networking and discovery solution. Microsoft is also promising to integrate its Yammer social networking app with Exchange, going forward. Yammer is Microsoft's replacement for SharePoint Newsfeeds, but it's a cloud-only product. While some organizations with private networks may not feel that they can use Yammer for compliance reasons, Microsoft is touting the use of Exchange transport rules (ETRs) as a way for IT departments to assert control. Here is Microsoft's claim, in a blog post today:

We believe ETRs are the right way to control external messaging, allowing us to provide admins with one centralized set of controls to manage external communication across Office 365. Using ETRs, admins can impose necessary restrictions but still provide employees with the choice to use any modality that best suits their needs.

It will be possible for "verified admins" to apply Exchange transport rules to Yammer sometime in "early May" of this year, according to a Microsoft support article.

Microsoft expects to roll out "a new external messaging feature in Yammer" that will let organizations establish social networking connections with people outside their network. Information will stay secure, Microsoft is promising, "because outside participants only access the conversations they have been added to and not the rest of the information in your network." IT departments will be able to "monitor any conversation that originated in their network," as well as employee connections outside the network, as a security measure, according to Microsoft.

Yammer will be integrated with Office 365 Groups in the near future, which will allow data to move across "Yammer, Outlook, OneDrive, Skype and Delve," Microsoft is also promising.

Yammer is an example of possible cloud product drift from the server product since the social networking app only runs off Microsoft's cloud-computing infrastructure. It can't be run on a private server.

Another user improvement planned for SharePoint 2016 will be integration with Office 365 Video. The Office 365 Video feature is a portal for displaying and discovering an organization's video content. It's powered by Azure Media Services, Microsoft's cloud-based broadcasting infrastructure for content providers. Microsoft released a preview of it last fall, but it is rolling out the Office 365 Video service worldwide today to organizations subscribing to its Office 365 E1, E3 and E4 plans. It will be available at no additional cost except for any increased SharePoint Online pooled storage costs incurred, according to an announcement. The rollout is happening worldwide over the next one-to-two months. In the future, it will be possible to use this service to embed videos into Yammer feeds, SharePoint Sites and blogs, Microsoft indicated.

Compliance Improvements
Microsoft plans to bring its Office 365 data loss prevention document protection scheme to SharePoint 2016. Typically, Microsoft's data loss protection system prevents information disclosure by filtering e-mail messages and attachments using Exchange transport rules, according to a Microsoft TechNet library article.

SharePoint 2016 will get investments in data loss prevention technology, plus "new scenarios to enable data encryption," according to Microsoft's announcement. It also will have compliance tools that will work across SharePoint Server and Office 365 services.

Most of what Microsoft announced today lacked specific details. The company plans to explain these SharePoint 2016 product advances more at its Ignite event happening next month.

IT pros also got a little SharePoint 2016 encouragement last month from Bill Baer, senior technical product manager at Microsoft. He outlined that a more simplified update process would be coming in the SharePoint 2016 product.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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