Microsoft have dominated the PC software world for several decades now, but that doesn’t mean they have been resting on their laurels, waiting for someone else to come up with new ideas. They’ve continued to innovate and push the state of the art forward from Redmond, WA. Every year, Microsoft holds two big conferences—Build and Ignite—where they show off all the improvements they’ve been working hard on, and all the cool news stuff that’s coming our way. Ignite is primarily geared for IT professionals, while Build is for developers, and the Fall 2016 Ignite conference was held in our backyard in Atlanta, GA. Microsoft didn’t disappoint with their announcements, and the things I’m most excited about are the changes and improvements to SharePoint and OneDrive. In this blog post, I’ll cover the important takeaways from the conference regarding SharePoint. Some of the features are already live and in production, while others are still in preview mode, which is still a good thing because it shows positive forward momentum!
New Sync Client
In my previous blog posts, I’ve bemoaned
the frustratingly unstable sync client that currently ships with SharePoint online. It’s horribly buggy, notoriously bad about cryptic error messages, and it seems to lock up and break sync for even the smallest issue. This tool is fine for small Document Libraries of a few dozen files where the odd error is no big deal, but anyone trying to use SharePoint for any serious document storage has experienced “Document Sync Error” rage. The key problem is the little application that runs in the background, checking to see if any changes have occurred in any synced folders, and then making sure both the local and remote copy of the file match up. We can see right from its name in Task Manager our first clue as to why it’s a problem: It’s called Groove.exe, which means it’s old. Groove was a Microsoft service that changed its name to SharePoint Workspaces way back in 2009, and SharePoint Workspace doesn’t even exist anymore. So essentially we’re using a very old application to do all the heavy lifting for us, which was designed to work with the great-grandfather of today’s OneDrive for Business. A workaround I’ve recommended on my previous blog post
is to map Document Libraries as mapped network drives. It’s a bit of a hack, but it works, and the only real downsides are having to re-authenticated periodically, and not having access to files while offline.
Contrast that experience with the OneDrive sync. OneDrive is rock solid, and works cross-platform. More importantly, sync errors don’t ever seem to be an issue. Unfortunately, the underlying storage technology with OneDrive has been incompatible with how SharePoint processes files.
This is exactly what the SharePoint developers have been working on. At Ignite, Microsoft announced the public preview version of the new Sync Client that brings all the best aspects of OneDrive to SharePoint. Robust file tracking for changes, cross-platform availability, and best of all… offline placeholders. This means that SharePoint doesn’t even need to put a full copy of every file on your local computer, because that’s a fast track to running out of hard drive space. Instead, SharePoint will keep a very lightweight thumbnail of the files you don’t access very often, weighing in at just a few kilobytes each. When you look through your files, they’ll all look like they’re right there, and when you double click on one that is really only a placeholder, the sync client will kick in, pull in the full file from SharePoint, and you shouldn’t even notice!
This feature should be generally available at the beginning of next year, but rest assured I’ll be taking the public preview for a test drive!
New Browser Features
Of course, SharePoint is meant to be primarily accessed in the browser, and so the Office 365 team have been busy rolling out new features in this space also. One of my favorite new features doesn’t seem like much, but makes SharePoint a lot more useful. Until now, Document Libraries could only show you a preview of Office documents; Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. The new feature expands that list, and will continue to grow as they add more document types. This means if somebody uploads an .EPS file for a print publication, you don’t have to have Adobe Illustrator installed to see what it looks like.
There are a few more new features in Document Libraries. You can now add URLs just like files, which makes it easy to upload links. You can also pin important files, and they will hang out at the top of the screen in the Document Library. These two features combined make SharePoint Document Libraries much more conducive for topic-based collaboration. You can quickly spin up a new Document Library for a specific project, pin the important files to the top for quick access, collaborate with other project members, and keep a log of associated websites; all in one place.
There are a few more really cool features like the new page builder wizard, and Office 365 Groups which get their own mini team site, but I plan on blogging more about these features in the future.
Mobile App Updates
Satya Nadella has had one mantra since taking the helm at Microsoft; Mobile first, Cloud first, so the SharePoint mobile apps were shown some love at Ignite, too. The biggest news is that the SharePoint app that came out this summer for iPhone is now also available on Android and Windows Mobile! Most of us practically live on our phones, so this is long overdue. SharePoint online has never been particularly responsive or mobile-friendly, so an app just makes sense. And the new SharePoint mobile app is maturing, as we can now access Lists in the app, not just Document Libraries. Lists are a big part of SharePoint, so this is a welcome update, and lists are now integrated with Flow, a new workflow technology in Office 365. I also intend to blog more about Flow in the future.
All these new features in SharePoint have come about because of customer feedback. The Office 365 development team maintains a blog and a podcast, and they are always looking for ideas and bug reports from the people using SharePoint day in, day out. Of course, you can always contact me! I love all things SharePoint and Office365 related, so if you need help with SharePoint, gives us a call!