In-Depth

SharePoint 2019 Wishes and Expectations

Microsoft recently announced a new on-premises SharePoint server release set for preview next year, but most of the details are a mystery. Microsoft MVP and SharePoint architect Oliver Wirkus shares what he hopes and expects are planned.

When Microsoft released SharePoint 2016 last year and I had a chance to have a closer look at the new features and changes, I must confess that I felt disappointed. It appeared to me that Microsoft had drawn its focus on enhancing Office 365, and consequently the company neglected the on-premises SharePoint 2016. This assessment may seem a little unfair, but that's how I felt after I installed SharePoint 2016 for the first time.

At this year's Ignite conference, Microsoft announced the successor of SharePoint 2016. The next version will be released at some time in 2019, which has led most to presume it'll be called "SharePoint 2019." Much of what Microsoft is planning for the next major SharePoint is unknown, although some tidbits have started to emerge. Here are some changes, updates and improvements that I expect and hope will find their way into the next release:

Custom Forms: Use PowerApps
SharePoint users have long requested that Microsoft let site owners change the default forms displayed in the content of Lists and Libraries. In previous versions of SharePoint, we used InfoPath to create custom forms for both Lists and Libraries. I was never a great fan of InfoPath (or for SharePoint Designer), so I wasn't too sad when Microsoft discontinued InfoPath as a product.

The only thing that worried me a little was that Microsoft did not announce a replacement or a successor. Although I still expect InfoPath to be able to connect to SharePoint 2019, I hope that Microsoft will enhance PowerApps and make it the preferred tool to create custom forms. Today users can utilize PowerApps to build nice looking mobile applications which are using custom forms to exchange data with SharePoint. Why not use PowerApps to build custom forms for SharePoint lists and libraries as well? The benefits are glaring: in the style of "Lord of the Rings," I like to phrase it like this: One tool to rule them all. Besides custom forms, I expect to see some enhancements to lists and libraries as well -- like customizable columns and the "modern" infinite scrolling you see at so many Web sites these days.

Hybrid: Improve Usability and Administration
When Microsoft first announced Office 365 and SharePoint Online, many companies began to think about moving to the cloud -- and the Microsoft marketing encouraged them to continue thinking in that direction. Very quickly, organizations and Microsoft discovered that a move to the cloud is everything but easy, especially for large organizations. That's when hybrid environments came into focus as they appear to be an exciting intermediate step for organizations on their way to the cloud. In a nutshell, hybrid works like this: migrate to the cloud, what makes sense to be hosted in the cloud and keep everything else on premises until the company is ready to take the final step. What sounds like a great approach isn't that great anymore when looking at actual hybrid implementations. Companies running a hybrid environment are often facing issues with usability, user acceptance, maintenance and administration. I still think that hybrid is a viable intermediate step for larger organizations and I am hoping that Microsoft is enhancing SharePoint 2019 in a way that enables companies to build, run and maintain a seamlessly integrated hybrid environment with less effort and improved usability.

Design: Expect Continued Modernization
Microsoft began to deviate from the established design when they introduced the modern look of lists and libraries. Microsoft continued the journey towards a fresh and modern look when they introduced communication sites and hub sites. I expect SharePoint 2019 to continue with these design changes. The modern look of lists and libraries will become the new default, while the traditional look will still be available under the hood. Microsoft has put a lot of effort into communication sites, the communication hub and the appealing new design. I expect SharePoint 2019 to focus even more on this new design. In fact, I assume that all traditional page layouts will get their modern counterpart.

Customizations: Continued Shift to SPFx
The success of the new communication sites wouldn't be possible without a new paradigm for customizations. I'm referring to the new SharePoint Framework (also call SPFx). This new client-side framework is replacing the traditional JavaScript/jQuery coding with a framework perfectly tailored to meet the specific requirements of the recent versions of SharePoint. SPFx will not only enable Microsoft but also developers to build great and exciting new apps and SharePoint Web Parts that can be hosted within the new page types that got introduced with the communication sites. In fact, I expect Microsoft to release new apps with SharePoint 2019 to encourage customers to switch from the traditional page layouts to the new page layouts. I am confident that SPFx will become the established standard for SharePoint customizations of all kind. Developers will still be able to build customizations based on server-side code, though.

How To Plan
Even my little magic crystal ball is limited when it comes to long-term predictions. Often clients ask me if the new version of SharePoint now in development will be the last version that is available for on-premises installations. I guess even Microsoft hasn't made a final decision yet. What I can predict with my hazy magic crystal ball is there will be at least one additional on-premises version of SharePoint after this release -- but that's just speculation that's not based on any inside knowledge. But speculation alone not very helpful so let's look at some facts. Rather than wondering whether Microsoft will discontinue SharePoint on premises after the next release, my advice is to start thinking of moving your organization to the cloud now!

Don't wait until Microsoft announces the end of life of SharePoint on premises. Take the time now to develop an elaborated plan on how to move your organization to Office 365. Think of how your organization can utilize all the advantages of Office 365 best and how to seamlessly migrate your existing portal to the cloud. When Microsoft announces the end of life of SharePoint on premises, you will feel reassured as you have already migrated your organization to the cloud in a beneficial manner while other organizations struggle with being rushed to develop migration strategies. In my SharePoint-related projects, I usually set my focus on usability, user-adoption and user involvement. To me, a seamless migration to Office 365 based on an elaborated plan and performed on a reasonable timeline is one of the key success factors to foster user-adoption and user-involvement. With a hasty and poorly planned migration, this valuable potential is wasted.

About the Author

Oliver Wirkus is a Microsoft MVP for Office 365 Servers and Services and Senior Consultant with 2toLead, based in Toronto, Canada. An experienced SharePoint expert and software architect, he has consulted for a variety of different industries and specializes in consulting for international projects and is an international speaker, former moderator of SharePoint User Group Stuttgart (Germany), member of the board of the Vancouver Office 365 User Group and has been voted one of the Top 25 SharePoint Community Influencers several times. 


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