SharePoint Server 2016 reached its "release-to-manufacturing" (RTM) milestone today.
The RTM bits of Microsoft's newest collaboration and document sharing server product can be downloaded at this page. It currently runs on Windows Server 2012 R2, although it's also designed for the future Windows Server 2016, too, which isn't available yet. This March 14 RTM release date of SharePoint Server 2016 was earlier leaked by a Microsoft program manager.
The product will reach its "general availability" (GA) commercial release in "early May" via the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center, per Microsoft's announcement. The hardware requirements of SharePoint Server 2016 are expected to be the same as those for SharePoint Server 2013.
Typically, Microsoft's RTM and GA terms had specific meanings. RTM signified a finished software product that was ready for imaging on new hardware. Original equipment manufacturers had the finished bits in hand at the RTM stage to put on machines prior to sales of those machines. GA, on the other hand, signified the actual sales date for the hardware and software products.
Now, Microsoft is using the RTM and GA terms to describe product features.
For instance, Project Server 2016, as integrated into SharePoint Server 2016, is currently at the RTM stage, Microsoft's announced explained. Organizations using it have to pay extra for Project Server 2016, but it's now integrated with SharePoint Server 2016. The integration was done largely to improve the patching process for organizations.
Similarly, Microsoft describes the "cloud hybrid search" feature of SharePoint Server 2016 as currently being at the GA stage.
Despite the odd language nuances, Microsoft is signaling that the SharePoint Server 2016 product is complete today.
SharePoint Server 2016 has been described by most SharePoint experts as not too different from its predecessor, SharePoint Server 2013. However, Microsoft has made architectural changes that promise to improve the product's somewhat obscure patching process. For instance, Microsoft has a new so-called "zero-downtime" patching process with SharePoint Server 2016 that can be used when the server is set up either using a new MinRole topology or a topology that has high availability. More about MinRole and zero-downtime patching can be found in this description by Microsoft MVP Vlad Catrinescu.
Cloud hybrid search is a big new feature in SharePoint Server 2016. It promises a better search experiences for organizations by using a search index that's housed in Microsoft's "cloud" datacenters. Instead of returning two sets of search results, which is the current federated search experience in SharePoint Server 2013, cloud hybrid search returns integrated search results from Office 365 and SharePoint Server on premises. This feature also is notable for coordinating search with other Office 365 services such as Groups and Delve, which are based on Microsoft's Office Graph technology. Behind both Office Graph and cloud hybrid search is Microsoft's FAST enterprise search engine.
More about hybrid search is discussed in this article. Also, see Catrinescu's thumbnail sketch of the potential costs of running cloud hybrid search in this blog post. More insights about SharePoint Server 2016's cloud hybrid search can be found from Matthew McDermott, a Microsoft MVP and SharePoint search expert, in this article.
Some of the file-handing limits are improved with SharePoint Server 2016. For instance, it supports 10-GB file uploads compared with 2-GB file uploads for SharePoint Server 2013. More about the product's expanded limits can be found here.
SharePoint Server 2016 has a new "durable links" feature in which an individual can still find files when the URL links to those file change. However, Catrinescu has explained that this durable links feature likely will need the use of Office Online Server, which is the successor to Office Web Apps Server. Both of those server products are designed to let organizations host browser-based Office applications, such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint, within their computing infrastructures.
At press time, it was unclear if Microsoft had also released the new Office Online Server, which has been at the preview stage. However, it was earlier suggested by a Microsoft product manager that Office Online Server would be released on the same day as SharePoint Server 2016.
Another notable feature in SharePoint Server 2016 is the ability to turn on data loss prevention, which is an Office 365 service that detects the use of potentially sensitive information in e-mails and attachments. It will flag issues like the use of credit card or Social Security numbers. Organizations can use it with Microsoft's E-Discovery Center, which facilitates the legal discovery process with search capability.
SharePoint Server 2016 also has a Fast Site Collection Creation feature that will speed up the site collection process. Also, Microsoft now allows other ports than the default Port 25 to be used for SMTP in SharePoint Server 2016.
Microsoft has its own overview of SharePoint Server 2016, which can be downloaded at this page.