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Microsoft Offers Early Preview of 'Modern' SharePoint Online Lists

Microsoft is seeking early feedback from Office 365 users on its "modern" SharePoint Online Lists feature, which adds some user experience improvements.

SharePoint Lists are basically tables with rows and columns. They take various forms, such as contacts lists, task lists and they even have a grid-like appearance as calendars. A SharePoint Library also is a SharePoint List, but it's designed to store document files. For a concise explanation along those lines, see this helpful SharePoint Maven blog post.

Microsoft has been using the "modern" term to indicate improvements to the SharePoint user experience, which is getting a more user-friendly facelift with SharePoint 2016 technologies. Last month, a new modern document Library experience got rolled out for SharePoint Online users. It added things like easier folder creation, the ability to add links to files in other libraries, easier metadata editing and responsive design for mobile devices. The classic Library experience also will be available "well into 2017," Microsoft indicated. Still, there are lots of caveats for organizations about the new modern Library experience, especially for those organizations that had customized their Library pages.

Modern List Preview
Now Microsoft is putting out the trial balloon for its modern Lists feature.

"Starting today, we are providing an early preview of the modern SharePoint list experience ahead of First Release and we look forward to your feedback," Microsoft's announcement stated.

It's apparently a pre-First Release kind of beta release. The actual First Release beta will start to roll out to Office 365 subscribers in "the first week in August 2016."

Sometime after that August rollout, Microsoft expects to "add PowerApps and Flow to the command bar" of SharePoint modern Lists. Both PowerApps and Flow are still at the preview stage right now. PowerApps is a set of tools and templates for business users to build applications, while Flow is a kind of workflow or services mashup utility. When those capabilities are added to SharePoint modern Lists, it will be possible to "create and launch Flows directly from a SharePoint list and store and modify that data within SharePoint," Microsoft's announcement promised.

PowerApps and Flow can connect with a number of data sources, which can be located on premises or in a service provider's datacenter. They both have a "common connector framework" that can access data from "Exchange, SQL, Dynamics, Salesforce, Google, Mail Chimp, Twitter, Wunderlist and more," the announcement explained.

The new modern SharePoint Lists improvements, like the modern Library improvements, just make things easier for end users. Here's Microsoft's characterization of those user experience improvements:

  • Improve ease of use by empowering users to add columns to lists and sort, filter and group data in place.
  • Elevate data quality by viewing and editing all item details in the information panel without leaving the list.
  • Improve productivity by bulk editing list items with Quick Edit.
  • Automate simple business processes with versions, approvals and alerts.
  • Enrich static information with rich data types including people, images and managed metadata tags.

Microsoft is also promising that its mobile SharePoint client app will have a good experience for end users with the new modern List enhancements.

List Caveats
As with the modern Library rollout, Microsoft offered some caveats about how the modern List experience will affect organizations when it finally gets delivered. Classic Lists will "automatically inherit" the new modern List user interface. A rollback to the classic mode will take place when compatibility issues get detected. Here's how that happens, according to Microsoft's announcement:

We monitor the compatibility of customizations every time a user visits a list. If we see a compatibility blocker -- like an unsupported browser or JSLink customizations -- the list automatically reverts to the classic experience. Users can choose to revert to the classic experience at any time, and administrators can configure classic experience as default at the list, site, site collection or tenant level.

The classic mode for Lists isn't going away, even with the more modern rollout. "We have no plans to remove classic mode anytime soon," Microsoft's announcement stated.

Possibly that may imply that Microsoft relaxed its 2017 end-of-support declaration for classic Libraries as well, although the "Update on Modern Document Libraries and Extensibility" document, linked above, simply states that organizations will have a "simple opt-out experience" to avoid the modern Library experience, should it prove problematic.

About the Author

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

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