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Microsoft Showcases SharePoint Online Growth and Improvements

Microsoft this week described SharePoint Online intranet-adoption growth stats, as well as new and notable features, and it outlined potentially breaking changes for users of "classic" search.

The announcements coincide with the Microsoft 365 Collaboration Conference online event, happening this week. Jeff Teper, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Teams, SharePoint and OneDrive, gave its keynote talk.

Teper previously had said during Microsoft Ignite 2019 that SharePoint Online had reached the 100 million active users milestone. Now, about a year later, that number has doubled to 200 million active users. That SharePoint Online statistic was noted in an announcement by Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365.

Spataro also alluded to new infrastructure undergirding Microsoft's SharePoint Online expansion:

Over the last few years, we have invested in a new SharePoint storage, platform, and experience architecture deployed across more than 60 regional data centers supporting millions of requests per second and exabytes of data. This new platform is enabling us to deliver innovations to you faster and you will see us bring to market many new SharePoint-powered experiences in collaboration, media, protection, intelligence, custom solutions, and more in 2021.

Details on the new infrastructure weren't described.

New or Notable Microsoft 365 Features
During the keynote, Teper talked in general about SharePoint's role and how remote work is here to stay now. To that end, Microsoft is providing measurement tools in Microsoft 365 aiming to improve employee awareness of the use of their time, he explained. Likely he was referring to Microsoft's newly released Productivity Score product.

Teper also pointed to some new features, without always indicating when they'd arrive. The new features apply to SharePoint Online, OneDrive storage Microsoft Teams collaboration and Microsoft Lists -- all of which are typically bundled in Microsoft 365 subscriptions.

SharePoint Features
On the SharePoint Online side, Microsoft made it easier to create news and announcements using prebuilt templates, which can include an organization's branding and color scheme. There's also a new "Auto-News Digest" feature, expected to arrive sometime this month, per a Microsoft 365 Roadmap listing. The Auto-News Digest feature sends a summary of the week's news to employees and can be customized with a company branding.

A new "Boost" feature for the Microsoft 365 and SharePoint newsfeeds lets organizations put information at the top of an employee's feed. Boost also works with the Microsoft Edge browser, Teper said.

"With our new Boost feature you can elevate these items until they've been read or had a certain number of impressions, or until a given date or other criteria," Teper explained.

There is a new "News Page Analytics" capability to show audience engagement with content.

"We're also introducing new automatically generated analytics digests," Teper said. "There's no need to go back and track down the metrics. Now they'll be delivered straight to your inbox."

A new App Bar is coming to SharePoint pages that'll offer a "consistent navigational experience" for end users across an intranet, Teper explained. The App Bar shows a user's "most important sites, resources and news, including their organization's top links," he added.

Microsoft is moving video to SharePoint Online instead of having it lodged in the Microsoft Stream service, which adds some content management controls. The video content will be "powered by the risk content management capabilities in SharePoint," Teper explained.

Teams Features
On the Teams side, there will be sizing and search improvements. Team sizes are expanding for Microsoft 365 users.

"Today, you can have up to 10,000 users per team, and soon we'll be expanding that to 25,000 users per team," Teper said, although he didn't specify when the expansion will occur.

Teams search results are getting enhanced. Teper promised that a new search results page will present users with "more relevant results, and additional context for each item grouped by messages, people and files." It'll also be possible to filter these search results based on dates, persons, files or other attributes, he added.

A new Home Site App for Teams is bringing SharePoint intranet content to Teams users.

"With this Home Site App, employees can easily stay informed and quickly share and discuss intranet content in channels and chat, without ever having to leave Teams," Teper said.

File Sharing, Shared Folders and Lists
Lots of Microsoft 365 user improvements were described, touching on file sharing, adding shared folders to OneDrive, plus the perks associated with using Microsoft Lists.

It'll be possible to show permissions associated with links to files when sharing them. End users will get a warning, such as "Some members don't have access," when the sharing isn't allowed, Teper explained. The Microsoft Roadmap described a similar feature that's said to be "rolling out."

Users who move files stored on OneDrive or SharePoint will be getting the ability to reshare already-shared files. This feature is being added so that people don't have to go through that process again after files get moved.

Microsoft also is bringing the ability to put Microsoft 365 shared folders on OneDrive personal storage for easier access. Teper called this feature "Add to OneDrive." The Roadmap described this item as having been "launched" back in September.

Teper pointed to the recently launched Microsoft Lists solution as being "powered by SharePoint." He suggested that the new Microsoft Lists product offers an easier way to create and access lists.

End users can create lists using a template and Microsoft provides "schema formatting" for common information types used in organizations, such as issue tracking and events organizing. It's also possible to create lists from Excel data. Users can put a list into their personal storage or into a team site.

Teper added that Microsoft Lists for iOS will be "coming later this year." It'll bring "a fantastic, simple mobile experience" with "feature parity."

Microsoft Classic Search Changes
Microsoft Search is getting "modernized" by dropping support for some FAST Query Language (FQL) elements in SharePoint Online's so-called "classic" mode, starting on Feb. 1, 2021, Microsoft explained this week.

Those dropped elements are being "deprecated," which usually means that they are still around but Microsoft will stop development efforts associated with them. However, the dropped FQL elements were typically described as being "removed." 

For instance, Microsoft will be removing the COUNT operator and the FILTER operator, and several others, in February. It's also removing several conditions elements. Microsoft is pointing classic SharePoint developers to use the Kusto Query Language (KQL) instead.

"We recommend, where applicable, using the default SharePoint query language, KQL where your business requirements can be similarly met," the announcement indicated, adding that "KQL is the default query language for building search queries."

Additionally, the ability to set up "authoritative pages" for improving search results in classic SharePoint Online will get removed on Feb. 1, 2021. Also getting dropped at that time is the ability to display "personal favorites" in classic search results. Microsoft wants SharePoint Online administrators to use "personal query history" instead in search results.

All of these search changes just will affect users of SharePoint classic pages. Users of "modern" SharePoint pages aren't affected.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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