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Microsoft Releases SharePoint Server 2016 Release Candidate

Microsoft today released SharePoint Server 2016 Release Candidate (RC), along with an RC of Project Server 2016.

Current SharePoint Server 2016 Beta 2 users can update to the RC release by simply installing the RC "over Beta 2," per Microsoft's announcement. In fact, Microsoft's download page for SharePoint Server 2016 RC just describes it as a patch for the beta 2 release.

The RC designation is old Microsoft terminology, signalling the last major milestone before product release. It traditionally meant that software feature development had stopped in the company and only the flaws got fixed. However, Microsoft's announcement today indicated that SharePoint Server 2016 RC is now considered "mostly feature complete."

Bill Baer, senior technical product manager for SharePoint, had indicated back in November that Microsoft intended to add new capabilities to the product up until product release. Microsoft is targeting the "general availability" (GA) product release of SharePoint Server 2016 for the spring of 2016, but Baer had clarified back in November that the GA release would happen in Q1 2016.

Experts so far haven't seen a lot to distinguish SharePoint Server 2016 from its predecessor, SharePoint 2013. Microsoft officials instead emphasized support for "hybrid" SharePoint Server 2016 deployments in which premises-based server farms are able to tap Microsoft's Office 365 cloud-based services.

That hybrid message has been an important one for Microsoft's server customers to hear. Microsoft's cloud-first messaging, along with some SharePoint-associated product deprecation announcements, perhaps caused some organizations to wonder about the company's SharePoint Server commitments. And that's still a debate today (see Microsoft MVP Christian Buckley's recent Redmond article on the topic).

InfoPath and SharePoint Designer
Microsoft's SharePoint Server 2016 RC announcement included some news about InfoPath 2013 and SharePoint Designer 2013. Those products still are subject to deprecation, meaning that Microsoft isn't planning to continue their development. However, they'll be functional for about 10 years and will have support aligned with the new server product.

"Support for InfoPath 2013 and SharePoint Designer 2013 will match the support lifecycle for SharePoint Server 2016, running until 2026," Microsoft promised, in its announcement.

It will be possible to "host InfoPath Forms Services" on SharePoint Server 2016 and Office 365. Similarly, Microsoft will support "custom workflows built with SharePoint Designer" on SharePoint Server 2016 and Office 365.

The support for InfoPath 2013 and SharePoint Designer 2013 is three more years than Microsoft's previous support policies, noted Rob Helm, an analyst with independent consultancy Directions on Microsoft, in a Twitter post. He speculated that Microsoft is planning replacements for those products, based on Azure technologies, to be "announced Sept. 2016, ships 2017."

SharePoint 2016 Features
SharePoint Server 2016 mostly improves upon its predecessor, but it has a few notable features. One of them is an optional MinRole capability for server farms. IT pros can specify the server's role and SharePoint Server 2016 will automatically configure the server within a server farm. In theory, this approach makes it easier to scale operations.

Microsoft also talked early on about SharePoint Server 2016 patching improvements. Supposedly, this new patch model will lead to "zero downtime" when updating servers, according to Mark Kashman, a senior product manager on Microsoft's SharePoint team.

The new "hybrid search" capability in SharePoint Server 2016 via a SharePoint Search Server Application promises a single cloud-based index, dispensing with the current disjointed search experience for organizations using SharePoint Server 2013. Hybrid search involves using Microsoft's Azure Active Directory service. It promises to reduce the number of servers used for search compared with the current federated hybrid search approach.

Microsoft is also bringing its Office 365 data loss prevention capabilities, as well as information rights management protections, to SharePoint Server 2016, among other Release Candidate improvements.

Features highlighted by Microsoft MVPs include a new Delve Analytics feature designed to aid worker productivity, plus other Office 365 collaboration improvements. For instance, Microsoft will expand the Office 365 Groups capability to SharePoint Team Sites.

Microsoft claimed in its announcement that SharePoint Server 2016 RC is a "high-quality" release because of the customer feedback it received. There were "over 5,000 customers" that downloaded the earlier preview releases, Microsoft indicated.

About the Author

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

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