My SharePoint 2016 wish list

Posted by Marc Anderson on Jan 5, 2016 4:40:27 PM

We’ve all made it through the holiday season, and for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, the days are finally starting to get longer. We’ve also read everyone’s Top 10 list for 2015.

But what of 2016? We’re in a new year. That’s significant from a Microsoft perspective because the SharePoint Product Group and many of the ancillary groups in Redmond (and beyond) pretty much shut down during the holidays. Everyone comes back renewed (we hope!) from their time away to get back to work in earnest.

Here are a few things I really hope will change in 2016. And by that I don’t necessarily mean just SharePoint 2016, but in the SharePoint world in general.

Fix authentication
Everyone I know has at least two accounts with Microsoft. One is probably the first account any of us had with Microsoft, which has been called a Passport, a Live ID, or a Microsoft Account over the years. Whatever they decide to call it, Microsoft thinks of this as our “personal” account with them, though many of us used our work e-mail when we set it up.

Many of us also have an Organizational Account or Office 365 Account (now sometimes called an ADFS Account), but those words don’t mean anything to real people. For those accounts, we are very likely to be using our work e-mail addresses.

When we log into Microsoft properties like Office 365, we’re prompted to use our work or school account, or our Microsoft account. This is incredibly confusing to people who are invited as external users, if not for people inside the organization.

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Remember that 99% of those users don't understand (nor should they have to care about) the difference between their two Microsoft accounts (if they only have two). When an external user is invited using their work account (which might be Office 365 and might not be), they are equally as likely to log in with their "personal" Microsoft ID—the one that the Microsoft Store and other properties require. My clients (and other clients I discuss with other consultants) have generally concluded that external sharing simply doesn't work and they look into alternatives off the Office 365 platform. When you need a five- to seven-page doc just to explain how to log in when you get an invitation, you've got a failed implementation of identity management.

Forget whether it's secure; it's not usable. As with many things, external sharing demos well, but in practice it doesn't work very well at all. I went through this very sort of nonsense trying to get The Dude set up on his Xbox to play with his friends remotely over the holidays. It's a totally different use case, one where Microsoft identity management is a nightmare for real humans. And I know what I'm doing—at least sort of. When security trumps usability, everyone loses.

I’d love to see these account discrepancies solved this year. Not changed a little with a bow to “technical debt”, but solved once and for all.

Improved changelogs
None of us are really sure what we have in our SharePoint installations, and that’s been the case for more than a decade now. Many organizations avoided applying Cumulative Updates or Service Packs if only because the devil they knew was better than the devil they didn’t. Some of those updates would improve things, and others would cause nightmarish issues. Most people got in the habit of waiting for the other guy to report problems before even consider applying each update.

On Office 365, it’s even harder. Figuring out what build level of SharePoint Online means hitting an endpoint from the root of the tenant (for the record, you can go to /_vti_pvt/service.cnf—see Jeremy Thake’s post for more info), but even then we just get a number. That doesn’t tell us what we actually have.

My hope here is that Microsoft comes up with a good way to communicate with us about what’s going on in our tenant and what we actually have at any given time. I’m not sure what that looks like exactly, but I’d be happy to help them figure it out. And an improved changelog would be a great start. We finally have a road map, but that doesn’t give us enough detail to know what will change or what has changed. It also doesn’t give us any way to know if that thing is in our own tenant. (It can take months for advanced features to roll out across all tenants.)

This seems like something many others have probably solved already, so Microsoft should look to good examples out there, like perhaps Salesforce. As a consultant who works on different tenants all the time, this fogginess makes it hard to do my job well, but it’s also a tough thing for people inside an organization to deal with.

Improved ‘backstage’ user interfaces
For some reason (perhaps because fewer people use them), the user interfaces for things like changing a list view or setting up a Site Column haven’t changed in the last 10 years. It’s great if you hate change, but almost every one of these “backstage” (meaning not every poor sap in the organization has to use them) UIs needs some serious love. We should be able to drag and drop column names to reorder them in a view; we should be able to see more details about Site Columns when we are looking at a Content Type; and the list goes on and on. In an age where we are all writing Single Page Applications and using REST calls to reduce postbacks, Microsoft needs to apply a lot of that “modern” thinking to the administrative, backstage UIs.

The term “technical debt” comes up here a lot as well. But by simply adding some modern JavaScript to the pages as they stand, we can often improve them immensely. Because they are “application pages” (meaning in the _layouts folder), it’s hard for us to do it out here. Let’s all try to get Microsoft to pay attention to these monstrosities. And don’t even get me started about working with Managed Properties in the Search Schema!

Well, I called it a wish list, right? And sometimes, a guy can even dream. I’m hoping if I revisit this article late this year that these three things seem like silly, forgotten issues. Don’t you?

Marc is the cofounder and president of Sympraxis Consulting. He has almost 30 years of experience in technology, professional services, and software development. He is an independent SharePoint consultant, the developer of the jQuery Library for SharePoint. Marc is also a Microsoft MVP for SharePoint Server.

Topics: SharePoint 2016

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