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Microsoft Highlights SharePoint Changes and Future Capabilities in Ignite Talk

SharePoint news from Ignite last week consisted of lots of improvements, some driven by customer requests.

Customer-expressed product needs get listened to by Microsoft personnel, which often drives its SharePoint product enhancements, explained Jeff Teper, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Office, SharePoint, OneDrive and Streams, in a Microsoft podcast. He added that some of the new features announced last week at Ignite, such as being able to customize search results and having sites with multilingual capabilities, came from addressing direct customer requests.

A coming capability will allow SharePoint Online users to "view content in their preferred language or easily switch languages," according to a Nov. 4 Microsoft announcement by Teper. The arrival of that language-switch capability wasn't clarified, though.

In his Ignite talk, Teper themed the SharePoint announcements in terms of five categories:

  • Knowledge
  • Intelligent Intranet
  • Content and Team Collaboration
  • Developer Platform
  • Security and Administration

Practically speaking, the announcements seemed to be all over the map. A few stood out, though.

Ignite SharePoint Highlights
One announcement that was focused on the Knowledge topic was Project Cortex. It's Microsoft's new "knowledge network" application. It surfaces organizational information in context via so-called "Topic Cards" that pop up across Outlook, Microsoft Teams and Office applications. Project Cortex uses the Microsoft Graph for search plus artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, and it uses SharePoint for the content delivery network. Project Cortex is currently at the private preview stage, with broader release planned for the first half of 2020.

With regard to the Developer Platform theme of the talk, what stood out was a new "Fluid Framework" described in this announcement. Teper said the Fluid Framework was the new plumbing for building out collaboration solutions using the Microsoft Graph, the SharePoint Framework and Office add-ins. The aim of the Fluid Framework is to provide a common platform for things like multiperson co-authoring and the abstraction of content into applications. It'll also use AI "to translate text, fetch content, suggest edits, perform compliance checks, and more," per the announcement. The Fluid Framework is currently at the preview stage, but it will be available to developers in "a few weeks," Teper said.

There's a coming "Modern Term Store" capability in various Microsoft 365 Admin Center portals that will provide help with metadata tagging using "terms" and "term sets." The idea is to tag data used in SharePoint Online in a consistent way, and the Modern Term Store capability will feature a dashboard view on how terms and term sets are getting used in organizations. Teper stated in his announcement that "the new [Modern Term Store] experience will offer an enhanced set of analytics and make it easier to manage your company's taxonomy and content types." No delivery time for this capability was described. During his Ignite talk, Teper said that the Modern Term Store experience was a top-requested item cited by customers.

SharePoint Server 2019 is getting supported on Azure Stack, a hardware device built by Microsoft's partners that lets organizations run Azure cloud services in their local server environments. Microsoft announced the renaming of Azure Stack at Ignite, now calling it "Azure Stack Hub." Another product in the line is Azure Stack HCI for "hyperconverged infrastructure," which is designed for organizations wanting to run applications on traditional virtual machine infrastructure. The third product in the line is Azure Stack Edge (previously called "Azure Data Box Edge"), which will include a "rugged" backpack version with a portable battery. See this announcement for product descriptions. Azure Stack products will be manageable via the newly announced Azure Arc solution, a hybrid cloud management extension of Azure Resource Manager.

Teper took a moment during his Ignite talk to explain a little bit more about what's going on with SharePoint Spaces, a three-dimensional presentation of SharePoint site content that got showcased last year then seemed to disappear from view. The SharePoint Spaces capability is still yet to come. He tied the arrival of SharePoint Spaces with the coming general availability of the Chrome-based Microsoft Edge browser, saying it'll come out as a public preview with SharePoint Spaces "early next year."

Home Sites General Availability
SharePoint Online Home Sites, described earlier this year as part of Microsoft's SharePoint Conference announcements, is now at the "general availability" commercial-release stage, and is getting rolled out to Office 365 tenants. Home Sites, built on top of Communication Sites, are conceived as landing pages for employees to share news and content.

Microsoft also had previously indicated that Home Sites would become the new home page for the SharePoint Mobile App. That change was expected to happen sometime this year.

File and Site Collection Expansions
Buried in the announcements were some new file and site collection capacity expansions for Office 365 and SharePoint Online users.

Microsoft now supports big file uploads, up to 100GB, for OneDrive, SharePoint Online and Teams users. The expansion was done, in part, to address organizations migrating files to Office 365, according to the podcast.

The SharePoint Online site collection limit was expanded to up to 2 million collections, up from a previous 500,000 collections limit. Moreover, each site collection can store up to 25TB, according to Mark Kashman, a senior product manager for SharePoint.

Labeling and Information Barriers Previews
Tagging data or sites to gain control over information access is apparently a big customer request for Microsoft. SharePoint uses "labels" for the purpose.

Last week, Microsoft announced a preview of its Sensitivity Labels feature that adds "privacy, external user access, and unmanaged device polices." These labels get applied when "creating or updating a Team, Office 365 Group or SharePoint Site."

There's also a Sensitivity Labels "protection" preview for files that's based on Microsoft's Information Protection service. It might be used to add encryption to SharePoint Online or OneDrive files, for instance. It'll also work with Microsoft's Data Loss Prevention and eDiscovery services.

Microsoft is previewing the ability to "automatically detect and label the sensitive files in SharePoint and OneDrive." IT pros can create auto-labeling policies using the Microsoft 365 Compliance Center. This capability is at the "private preview" stage.

Microsoft announced a private preview of new Information Barriers compliance controls for SharePoint Online and OneDrive. It's used to keep certain employees from electronically communicating with each other, which might apply in certain legal and financial (insider trading) scenarios. The addition of Information Barriers for SharePoint and OneDrive is apparently new, but it's already commercially available in Teams.

Perks for IT Pros
New tools for SharePoint administrators were announced that are either available or coming.

Microsoft declared that Movere migration support is now available for free for organizations moving workloads to Microsoft 365 platforms. Microsoft announced in September that it was buying Movere, a consulting company that uses an agentless discovery service to help plan cloud platform moves. Movere support is currently available in North America, but Microsoft is planning worldwide availability at some point. Teper described Movere as offering support for "many new cloud migration scenarios alongside our SharePoint Migration Tool for on-premises moves." Microsoft produced a podcast with Movere's co-founder on migration options, which is available at this page.

The SharePoint Migration Tool now supports moving SharePoint Server 2010 premises-based workloads to online services, such as SharePoint Online, OneDrive or Teams. The SharePoint Server 2010 support recently reached general availability status, although the tool also supports moving SharePoint Server 2013 workloads.

Microsoft described a preview of a new Migration Manager in the SharePoint Admin Center that can be used to monitor migration progress. It's scheduled for Q2 2020 release.

The SharePoint Admin Center portal now has the "root site URL renaming" capability that had been introduced back at the SharePoint Conference earlier this year. Also now available in the portal is a new "root site swap" capability, which is used to swap a "classic" SharePoint site with a "modern" one.

Microsoft released templates in the Azure Marketplace that can be used for deploying SharePoint Server 2019 or SharePoint Server 2016 server "farms" in a datacenter. The templates create "fully functional, Internet-facing" SharePoint server farms under a trial license for test purposes. Product licensing is required to take these farms into commercial production, though. These template-created server farms use Azure SQL Managed Instance for storage, which Microsoft described as a "best practice recommendation for hosting SharePoint Server in Azure."

The SharePoint Admin Center is starting to get an improved editing capability for site settings, although the timing wasn't described. It's done via various "edit panels." A "General" edit panel gives access to the site's main settings. An "Activity" edit panel gives access to file and people settings. There also are "Permissions," "Policies" and "Hub" edit panels.

Microsoft plans to deliver a control for SharePoint Online users that will permit organizations to set automatic expirations for external user access. Organization might limit access to a certain number of days, for instance. This capability is expected to reach general availability at the "end of 2019."

Other Announcements
Other assorted product capabilities were included in the various SharePoint announcements.

Hub Sites, used to organize other SharePoint sites, are getting a "Hub permissions" management capability. An analytics capability for Hub Sites also will be coming, according to this announcement. Search and audience targeting navigation also are in the works for Hub Sites.

A new SharePoint "teal" default theme will be coming for "new and existing classic modern communication and non-group connected team sites." The SharePoint Mobile App will support custom branding by organizations.

Microsoft made it easier for Teams users to add SharePoint elements as tabs in Teams. They can add SharePoint Lists, Libraries or Pages, a capability that is available now.

The browser-based Office.com service got the ability to access line-of-business apps.

Microsoft released the ability to integrate PowerApps with SharePoint document libraries. It also now permits Lists to fill the screen. It's also possible to use If/Then logic to format the rows and columns in SharePoint Lists and Libraries. Alternate rows can get formatted in a different color for better information presentation. Also, the SharePoint List and Library Web Part can pull "dynamic data from other source web parts," Microsoft explained in an announcement.

An Office Scripting feature is getting added to Excel that records actions inside an Excel workbook, which can be used to automate activities. This scripting capability will be at the preview stage by the "end of the year."

Microsoft plans to talk more about its various Ignite developments in a series of events called "Ignite the Tour." The events will include SharePoint, OneDrive, Yammer and Stream content, as described here.

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