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SharePoint Hub Sites Coming to Office 365 Subscribers This Month

The SharePoint Hub Sites intranet feature will be coming to Office 365 subscribers as early as the end of this month, Microsoft announced Wednesday.

The Hub Sites feature, which lets organizations bring Team Sites and Communication Sites together into a common centralized interface, will arrive first to "targeted release" Office 365 subscribers -- that is, to subscribers who opt to get test releases. Microsoft expects to complete a "worldwide rollout" of Hub Sites sometime in early May.

The initial rollout of Hub Sites "should begin March 21 to 10% targeted release tenants," suggested Chris We, a Microsoft Premier field engineer, in an earlier Microsoft post. He described Hub Sites as an optional feature that only affects end users when created. A new "Sites WebPart" also will be available at that time, which can be used to show sites associated with a Hub Site, he noted.

It seems that Hub Sites will be available to just Office 365 cloud services subscribers using the SharePoint Online product. In October, Microsoft MVPs Roger Haueter and Vlad Catrinesu speculated that the Hub Sites feature would not show up for SharePoint Server 2019, which is the coming premises-installed product that's expected to arrive later this year. Wednesday's announcement just described the coming Hub Sites feature for Office 365 users.

Early on, Microsoft had indicated that Hub Sites, which bring together news, activities and search into a kind of knowledge-sharing portal, would not necessarily be a replacement for an organization's existing Publishing Sites portals. One snag may be whether organizations have used extensive customizations for their sites. Here's how Microsoft's announcement described that matter:

Customers with portals that include customization beyond the web parts and extensions that SharePoint Framework currently supports are likely to continue using the SharePoint publishing infrastructure, which continues to be fully supported both in SharePoint Server on-premises and SharePoint Online.

SharePoint Framework, which went live last year, is Microsoft's client-side developer platform for SharePoint that relies on the use of lightweight developer tools and REST-based APIs for customizations. It replaced Microsoft's former server-side development model.

Hub Sites have to be set up by IT pros, who have to be SharePoint administrators. Microsoft recommends that organizations convert an existing Communication Site into a Hub Site using the Register-SPOHubSite PowerShell cmdlet, or it's also possible to create a new Hub Site. IT pros next specify which end users have permissions to add Team Sites or Communication Sites to a Hub Site portal. End users get such permissions when IT pros set up security groups for SharePoint site owners, which also gets done using PowerShell.

There are restrictions associated with Hub Sites. It's possible to create multiple Hub Sites, but they can't be associated with one another. Similarly, a particular Team Site or Communication Site can only be associated with one Hub Site.

Microsoft claims that Hub Sites enable "good governance." It's possible to move Hub Sites from one site to another without disrupting the user experience, for instance. Moreover, this release comes with a new "scoped search" feature, which means that the search process will stay within the sites that are associated with a Hub Site. IT pros can apply a common theme across Hub Sites, as well. Mark Kashman, senior product marketing manager for SharePoint, described these kinds of capabilities as a "dynamic intranet." Microsoft is also claiming that the Hub Sites interface will flow well when accessed on mobile devices.

Microsoft plans to talk more about Hub Sites in a few upcoming events, namely:

A new "SharePoint Intranet Planning Guide" publication also will be "coming soon."

About the Author

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

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