The new SharePoint Framework (sometimes referred to as SPFx now) is really only for developers, in most cases. End users really shouldn’t care whether their developers are building things in an “old” way or a “new” way as long as what they get meets their requirements. Most—if not all—of the information we’ve seen about the SharePoint Framework (including the video below by Dan Kogan) is focused squarely on developers. Unless you’re into syntax and semicolons as my pal Jennifer Mason Roth likes to say, the available information may seem like Greek to you.
That said, the SharePoint Framework has the potential to greatly improve the user experience (UX) of SharePoint pages and applications going forward. Because of this, you should care that it is coming and add it to your vocabulary. I’ve always believed that an educated end user is a better end user, so knowing a little bit about this new development option will help you have better conversations with your SharePoint development team as you discuss future requirements.
First, a little background. SharePoint has historically been a platform upon which most people developed solutions by writing C# code which was deployed to the SharePoint servers. In the last few versions of SharePoint (starting with SharePoint 2010), Microsoft started weaning developers away from deploying this type of code. It turned out that allowing developers to deploy code to the servers in such a way that gave them free rein to do pretty much anything tended to make the servers break!
Since then, there has been a slow move to what is usually known as client-side development. This type of development is what drives many consumer websites with which you are familiar. In SharePoint, we were used to a postback, which means when we take an action, the data is sent to the server, the page sort of disappears, and the next page loads—hopefully all very quickly, but not always. Postbacks are a pretty old approach and can make the “conversation” with the server feel very clunky.
Client-side development (as with all things, assuming it’s done right) can make those “conversations” feel much closer. I think of it as moving the behaviors from way off at the server to right behind the glass of your screen, no matter what type of screen it may happen to be.
The SharePoint Framework provides a client-side development approach. Some of us have been developing things this way for years, but to many mainstream SharePoint developers this will be new ground. Expect that your development team will have a significant learning curve before they get really good with these newer techniques. In other words, you can ask for a lot, but be patient if they need more time—at least initially. The good thing is that the iteration time for development should be faster for you as your developers get more familiar with SPFx.
What end users get out of the SPFx directly is a new flavor of Web Parts they can add to existing pages as well as “next gen” pages. You may have seen some of these “next gen” or “modern” (a word that Microsoft has truly worn out) pages already without realizing it. One of the first of these pages was the Delve blog page.
These newer pages have a different type of “canvas” than older pages have. Rather than Web Part Zones, they have specific content regions. They might feel a little more like publishing pages to you, but they are far cooler than that and they certainly look cleaner.
Other pages that give you these more modern experiences are the new Document Library “experience” (Yikes! Another ruined word!) or the new Site Contents “experience.”
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, this type of page is here to stay. While some of them are only available on Office 365 at this point, expect them to come to a SharePoint near you at some point.
But there are real upsides to all this for you as an end user. The SPFx Web Parts will be more responsive and thoroughly “modern” in a Web development sense, so they will simply feel “better” to you as a user. That also means that they will work better on different types of screens. They may not all be perfect on your tiny phone screen, but they will be far more palatable.
So the upshot here for end users is, basically, “Stay tuned.” There are good things coming your way once the SharePoint Framework is generally available (we expect a public preview in the third quarter) and your development teams are up to speed. It’ll be a while, but I think you’ll find it’s going to be a good place to be.
Marc is the Co-Founder and President of Sympraxis Consulting LLC, located in the Boston suburb of Newton, MA, USA. Sympraxis focuses on enabling collaboration throughout the enterprise using the SharePoint application platform.