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Microsoft Unveils SharePoint Server 2019 and Other Coming Improvements

Microsoft disclosed SharePoint and OneDrive progress this week, which also included a brief mention of a coming SharePoint Server 2019 product, among many other details.

The big news is that there will be a SharePoint Server 2019 release, as announced Tuesday among a slew of bits by Jeff Teper, corporate vice president for SharePoint at Microsoft. He added that the new server would get discussed at Microsoft's Ignite event this week, but offered no other information.

The preview of SharePoint Server 2019, among other new servers, is expected to arrive by mid-2018, according to Jared Spataro, general manager for Microsoft Office, in an announcement.

Most of this week's SharePoint and OneDrive announcements fell on the Office 365 services side of things. Microsoft typically delivers its SharePoint Online innovations first before they come down to the server product.

New Admin Center and Migration Tool
Microsoft has created a "completely revamped SharePoint Admin Center," which is expected to be available for "first-release" SharePoint Online testers in early 2018, according to an announcement.

The new home page of the Admin Center shows SharePoint and OneDrive notifications. It shows file activity patterns, active sites (with filterable info) and service health information. There's a Recycle Bin to recover deleted sites. Also included are sharing controls and device policy controls for compliance, conditional access and data leakage.

A new SharePoint Migration Tool was announced. It's designed to move content (such as document libraries or file shares) from SharePoint Server sites located at an organization's datacenters to Microsoft's cloud-based SharePoint Online service or the OneDrive Office 365 service. A preview of the tool is currently accessible at this page.

The SharePoint Migration Tool purportedly can handle large and small migrations. Microsoft plans to add more fine-grained control to the tool in the future for file, site and tenant-level moves, according to Bill Baer, senior technical product manager for SharePoint and OneDrive, in a Microsoft video.

Compliance and Security
Microsoft added "data residency and compliance" capabilities for both SharePoint Online and OneDrive, which are being called "Multi-Geo Capabilities in Office 365." Organizations get to choose the regional location for storing data, as well as storing the search index. The Multi-Geo Capabilities are currently at the private preview stage, with signup links located in Microsoft's announcement.

It may not be new, but Microsoft also described "service-level encryption with customer key" protections for SharePoint Online and OneDrive. The keys can be revoked by organizations, denying access to content.

Microsoft also announced at Ignite that device access policies for content stored in SharePoint and OneDrive can be specified at "the site collection level." This capability lets organizations "limit access from these devices on a site by site basis, based on the classification of the content," the announcement explained.

Microsoft is currently working on an Office 365 compliance policy for shared-device scenarios. It will "automatically sign-out sessions at a specified interval after a period of inactivity."

New Hub Sites
Hub Sites is a new portal addition for SharePoint Online users. It will be arriving for first-release testers in "the first half of calendar year 2018," Microsoft announced.

Hub Sites is a new interface for users that lets them "bring together related sites to roll up news and activity, to simplify search, and to create cohesion with shared navigation and look-and-feel," the announcement explained. A Hub Site is used to associate Team Sites and Communication Sites. Only one Hub Site can be associated with Team Sites and Communication Sites, though, the announcement added.

Microsoft sees Hub Sites as being primarily used for sharing knowledge. A Communication Site, in contrast, is primarily used to "tell your story, share your work and showcase your product across the organization," Microsoft explained. Hub Sites aren't necessarily replacements for Publishing Sites, particularly if organizations are using customized WebParts and extensions, according to the announcement.

Communication Sites and Team Sites
Microsoft announced Communication Sites improvements that are expected to be available to first-release testers "before the end of calendar year 2017." New WebParts will be available for Communications Sites at that time. They include Planner, Microsoft Forms, Group Calendar, File Viewer, Spacer and Divider, Twitter, and Connectors (to add "third-party" services). Microsoft also plans to improve the Yammer WebPart for Communications Sites so that it displays well within mobile apps, among other WebPart improvements.

Team Sites and Microsoft Teams improvements also were announced, with most of them expected to arrive for first-release testers at the end of this year. SharePoint Team Sites will get new WebParts, including Group Calendar, Planner and Document Library WebParts. It'll also be possible to connect a SharePoint Team Site with an Office 365 Group and SharePoint Hub Site, which will happen "within the first half of calendar year 2018."

Microsoft Teams, an Office 365 service, can now access and show "dynamic, data-driven pages and news articles," not just documents stored in SharePoint libraries, Microsoft's announcement added. These SharePoint pages or news articles can be accessed through a tab in a Microsoft Teams channel.

Microsoft also added a "Me tab" in its SharePoint mobile applications. It shows "recent files, lists, pages and news posts." It also has a "save for later" option for review.

Personalized Search
An improved SharePoint Online "Personalized Search" feature will be available worldwide "later this year." It will be a faster search experience and will include "list items everywhere, not just the results in the enterprise search center, so all content in a SharePoint site is now included," Microsoft's announcement explained. In addition, the Personalized Search capability will be accessible via the Windows Taskbar.

Microsoft also announced that Bing for Business, a new Office 365 enterprise search service for finding organizational content, is at the private preview stage. It surfaces content by using the Microsoft Graph, a search service that underlies various Office 365 services. It doesn't serve up advertising content with the results. Microsoft expects Bing for Business will get "natural language" querying capabilities "over the next year."

Search also will improve for SharePoint Online and OneDrive by being able to "extract text out of images." This improved image search capability is expected to be available "within a couple of weeks after Ignite."

Predictive Indexing and Content Management
Microsoft is working to improve the predictive logic behind SharePoint library queries. The plan is to automatically use an index to filter the results when a query might result in "thousands of records," which Microsoft is calling "predictive indexing." This new predictive logic is expected to "be available to most customers in Q4 of 2017," Microsoft explained, in an announcement.

Microsoft also described some metadata management capabilities that will be coming for SharePoint Online users. One feature, coming Oct. 2017, called "Attention Views," will provide a visual alert when a file needs attention because it is missing metadata or lacks expiration dates.

Word 2016 on Windows will get the ability to display and edit SharePoint metadata in January 2018. Word 2013 currently has that capability, so it's catch-up time for Microsoft's current word-processing software.

A new "Integrated Review Flows" feature, coming Oct. 2017 to all SharePoint document libraries, will permit end users to route documents for feedback.

A Microsoft Flow SharePoint addition coming in November will add the ability to specify that files should undergo an approve-and-publish process to get stored in a library. Microsoft also plans to add an "event-based retention" capability in "Q4 2017" that triggers actions for documents based on events, which can be controlled via the Office 365 Security and Compliance Center.

Lastly, SharePoint and OneDrive will permit the "offline synchronization of libraries encrypted by Information Rights Management," which permits those files to be synchronized to a PC or Mac. That capability is expected to arrive in "Q4 2017."

Business Process Additions
Microsoft is continuing its efforts to integrate SharePoint and OneDrive with its business process services, such as PowerApps and Microsoft Flow, plus Microsoft Forms and Power BI. New capabilities will arrive this year for first-release testers, according to an announcement.

In October, the following capabilities will be available:

  • Custom forms using PowerApps
  • Ability to launch Flows in OneDrive
  • A new Flow "launch panel" to prompt users for input
  • A Flow-based "custom approval action" for libraries that require "formal check-in and approval"
  • WebParts for Power BI and Microsoft Forms
  • Column formatting in SharePoint Lists and Libraries

In December, these capabilities will be available:

  • A Flow capability to prompt for document reviews
  • A WebPart to add PowerApps to a SharePoint page

In November, Microsoft plans to add a Flow-based custom approval action capability to SharePoint libraries that require check-in and approval.

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