Microsoft SharePoint Improvements Announced at Ignite

Microsoft provided updates on SharePoint Online and SharePoint Server 2019 last week during its Ignite conference.

The keynote talk featured Jeff Teper, corporate vice president of Office, OneDrive and SharePoint. It also consisted of multiple demos conducted by various Microsoft luminaries.

Teper outlined the overall goals of Microsoft's SharePoint efforts as follows:

  • Engage employees with great intranet across the organization.
  • Have flexible teamwork solutions in place.
  • Empower people to work with files in a rich and collaborative way.

Quite a lot of the talk focused on coming collaboration improvements for end users, although IT pros got some management news, as well.

The big-ticket item from last May's SharePoint North America event -- namely, SharePoint Spaces, a mixed reality solution for SharePoint Online pages -- got a brief mention during the keynote talk. Teper said that "we're still working away on SharePoint Spaces," but he didn't elaborate on it.

SharePoint Server 2019
While much of the talk focused on user interface improvements for SharePoint Online end users, there were a few SharePoint Server 2019 tidbits. SharePoint Server 2019 is expected to reach "general availability" sometime this month.

Teper said that Microsoft continues to be committed to the server version of the product. SharePoint Server 2019 will support team sites and "Files on Demand" capabilities, he added.

Teper also called out Microsoft's migration support efforts. Microsoft is providing support for self-service migrations to SharePoint Online using the SharePoint Migration Tool. It's providing FastTrack program support for data migrations to SharePoint Online. And it's backing partner-led migration solutions. 

The capabilities of the SharePoint Migration Tool have been enhanced. The tool "now allows you to move complete on-premises SharePoint sites, in addition to data from libraries lists and file shares," according to an announcement by Teper.

SharePoint Online Site Enhancements
Teper described SharePoint Online improvements based on the collaboration theme in an announcement. The announcement didn't specify when these improvements would arrive, though.

One improvement concerns Hub Sites, which are Microsoft's top intranet pages for organizing sites in SharePoint Online. Hub Sites are getting "events roll-up and hub join approvals" capabilities. In addition, Microsoft is expanding the number of Hub Sites that can be used in an Office 365 tenancy to 100 Hub Sites.

SharePoint pages are getting "part-to-part communications." It'll be possible to add a SharePoint List "as a tab in Teams." It'll be possible to add Teams apps to SharePoint sites.

OneDrive is getting a "Files on Demand" synchronization capability for Mac users, which allows end users to access files even when they're not online.

The @mentions SharePoint Online notification feature will be getting support for adding comments to OneDrive-stored files. Microsoft also is bringing video and audio transcription services "soon" to OneDrive and SharePoint.

Teams is getting the ability to tap "the full capabilities of SharePoint Document Libraries." Custom views can be created. Users will see "the familiar files command bar," which can be used to sync files from Teams to a PC or Mac device. It'll soon be possible to "add a SharePoint list as a tab in Teams."

Another announcement described coming business process integrations with SharePoint Online. Most of these improvements will be arriving in the fourth quarter of this year.

Of the long list of items in the announcement, Microsoft noted that it is making it easier to use "existing data as a template for new lists." For example, it'll be possible to build SharePoint Lists from Excel tables.

Microsoft is also planning to add a "new location column" to SharePoint Online. It can be used to "tag items and documents with location data," such as using Bing-based maps data. It also supports location information within an organization, such as using meeting room location data.

Conditional formatting of SharePoint columns using JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) scripts, which is done to add interactivity, will be losing the code. "Coming soon, you'll also be able to [do] conditional formatting without using any JSON scripts," Microsoft's announcement promised.

Features Coming in 1H 2019
Other SharePoint Online user improvements were described as coming at the end of the first half of 2019, per an announcement.

New Office 365 tenancies will get "provisioned at the root site," which is the shortest URL, Microsoft promised.

SharePoint Online sites are getting a "new megamenu layout," which shows the whole menu, instead of using flyouts. Also on the navigation side, site headers will have three layout options, "standard, minimal and compact," permitting users to "reclaim some of the vertical space at the top of the site." It will be possible to add site footers, as well. Microsoft also is supporting a centralized library for approved images that end users can tap when adding sites.

Hub Sites, Microsoft's top-level navigation pages, will be getting a new "Create Site" button in the upper-right corner. This button will let users quickly create SharePoint sites and have them be automatically associated with the Hub Site. It'll also be possible to convert Team Sites and Communication Sites into Hub Sites with a button click. The SharePoint Admin Center in Office 365 will be getting the ability to create Hub Sites, and it'll have administrative tools for "reporting, contacting and managing sites."

Web Parts will get the capability of being "personalized" for page visitors in terms of sites, documents and news. Microsoft also will have an "audience targeting" capability for "news pages and other web parts" that lets organizations address different audiences.

A few new and updated Web Parts are in the works. A new "SharePoint News" Web Part will aggregate information from "personal, team and organizational news." A new Countdown Timer Web Part will allow intranet users to show a timer for important events on the SharePoint home page. The Events Web Part is getting improved to show an "aggregated view of all events" at the Hub Site level.

A few SharePoint Mobile App improvements were mentioned. There will be organizational news support, as well as support for news articles from external sources. Also, Microsoft is adding the ability to send "@mentions" messaging to other users from within news articles.

A few Teams integrations were mentioned in another announcement. A new "Create a Team" button is being added to the bottom-left corner of SharePoint sites. A new "Go to Channel Conversation" button is being added to the upper-right corner of a SharePoint page to show when a "group-connected SharePoint team is connected to Microsoft Teams."

Microsoft is working on adding SharePoint Web Parts as tabs in Teams. Also, it's working on having Teams tabs function as "full-page apps in SharePoint."

Web Parts are getting the ability to support "dynamic data," where Web Parts can talk to other Web Parts. For instance, the List Web Part will serve as a data provider. Other Web Parts, such as List Properties, File Viewer and Embed, will serve as data consumers.

Other improvements for end users were noted. It'll be possible to "promote" a page as a preferred page design. That design then gets used when other new pages get created. End users will get group classification labels, which will be based on how an organization has classified its content. Site visit activity will be viewable in a new "heat map." The heat map will show the times when people most visit a site, for instance.

SharePoint Management
SharePoint Online management was a key theme. The SharePoint Migration Tool, which is used to move SharePoint Server content to Microsoft's datacenters for use with SharePoint Online, has been improved. It can now move "complete SharePoint 2013 sites," in addition to Lists, Libraries and Web Parts. In addition, PowerShell cmdlets to automate these moves are now "generally available," Microsoft indicated in an announcement.

Microsoft announced the availability of a "Files Restore" for SharePoint Online capability, which "will begin rolling out to Targeted Release in December 2018." This feature will let SharePoint Online site administrators "restore files from any point in time during the last 30 days." It's similar to a restore capability existing in OneDrive for Business and works across "SharePoint, Teams, Outlook groups and Yammer groups connected to Office 365 groups," the announcement indicated.

Labels are getting a few improvements in SharePoint. "Classification labels" will "begin rolling out to Targeted Release in December 2018." These labels are a security measure that can be applied to "files, e-mails, groups, Sites and Teams," and are associated with policies configured using the Microsoft 365 Security and Compliance Center portal.

Organizations also will be getting "retention labels" in November that will be applied automatically and will work with the content types specified in SharePoint. Lastly, Microsoft announced a new "Label Analytics" capability in the Microsoft 365 Security and Compliance Center, which shows label stats, including who's been applying labels and "unusual trends."

In the first quarter of 2019, Microsoft is planning to improve the SharePoint Admin Center portal so that it can manage "all sites, including group-connected team sites, communication sites and hub sites," the announcement indicated. Microsoft is also planning to add "Device Access and Sharing Policies" to the portal. The site creation process using the portal will be getting more settings and controls, and the ability to track Office 365 tenancy storage limits will get simplified. Eventually, the portal will permit the changing of site URLs, too.

Microsoft is planning to bring its Azure Active Directory B2B external sharing capabilities to SharePoint. External users will have a "one-time passcode experience" when SharePoint Sites and Lists get shared with them. It's not clear when this capability will be available.

Microsoft is planning to add "Multi-Geo" support for SharePoint Online to address the data sovereignty governance requirements of residents in the European Union, where data need to be housed in a particular country. Multi-Geo support is available now for Exchange Online and OneDrive, according to Microsoft's Multi-Geo site, but SharePoint wasn't listed. It's unclear when this SharePoint Multi-Geo support will arrive.

Microsoft Search
Teper also stressed the importance of Microsoft Search, which is bringing together Microsoft Graph and Bing search technologies across Office 365 products, not just SharePoint Online.

Teper noted a few general goals for Microsoft Search in his announcement. Search will have a consistent user interface across products, and a search bar will be located in the same place for Microsoft "desktop, mobile and Web" applications. Users will encounter the search bar within various Office 365 applications. Search results will be more personalized, and the results will come from both the intranet and Internet.

IT pros will be able to "curate" organizational search results, as well. In addition, Microsoft is building "native connectors for popular third-party applications" that will allow IT pros to combine non-Microsoft application data into search results, a capability that's expected to be available next year.

A few notable future milestones were announced for Microsoft Search. Windows will get a taskbar for local and organizational searches in the first half of 2019. The Microsoft Graph will get augmented with machine-reading AI technology in the first half of 2019.


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