SharePoint 2016: What Can We Expect From The UI?

Mobile Man / Monday, July 06, 2015

Since its earliest iterations, SharePoint always focused on providing companies with specific utilities. It began by offering collaborative capabilities for those looking to move beyond network shares and evolved into a product that catered for content management and portals. Over the years, various toolsets have been added to this, (such as PerformancePoint, Project Server, Content Management Server and so on) but these haven’t always been bundled that effectively into the UI.

Having said that, with the spark of excitement that we all felt at Microsoft’s Ignite last month, we thought it would be useful to spend some time looking at SharePoint’s historical UI and where it is heading next. We’ll then have a quick recap of what was announced at Ignite and see what dates we, the community, should be keeping in mind.

Have you had work done?

SharePoint may be many things, but without performing major surgery, it’s never really seen as being ‘pretty on the eye’ in its native ‘out of the box’ format. That said, there are several aspects that have gotten better over the years.

SharePoint Search: The search experience within SharePoint has always been a sore topic.  It’s seen several major improvements over the years with the SharePoint 2013 editions being amongst the most useful, with visual refiners and the document preview. These refiners aren't new to SharePoint but in the 2013 edition Microsoft added the easy to use visual interface improvement, which makes immediate adjustments to the search results very easy.

Standards: When discussing standards within SharePoint, we’re referring to HTML and CSS Standards. SharePoint 2007 was the last edition of the product to rely on tables for its layouts, which made it a somewhat unwieldy product. SharePoint 2010 did away with this and moved towards CSS based layouts before SharePoint 2013 completed the journey to HTML 5 and CSS 3.

The Office ribbon: SharePoint 2010 saw the introduction of the Office ribbon to the list and libraries to mirror the changes that had been made to the Office desktop clients in 2007. Whilst in theory making things easier for users by streamlining their experiences across Office applications, it did necessitate some users having to relearn certain basic operations. The same could be said of SharePoint 2013 with the introduction of the ellipses.

A better UI

So with those changes having already been made, what can we look forward to with SharePoint 2016? One of the three spokes of SharePoint evolution that Microsoft have announced is Improved User Experiences (the other two are (i) Cloud Based Infrastructure and (ii) Compliance and reporting).

This focus on the improved UX includes the following:

  • Mobile Experiences
  • Personalized Insights
  • People-centric storage & collaboration

Giving more attention to mobile experiences is a realization of the fact that a great deal of content and information is now consumed ‘on the go’. SharePoint’s mobile experiences haven’t typically offered a reduced version of the desktop experience - they’ve tended to be very minimal and offered very little utility. SharePoint 2013 did see the introduction of device channels but these competed with the ability to use responsive web design techniques rather than complementing them. Hopefully, the ability to cater for mobile device users will result in a much more mature offering.

Besides the Mobile Experience, the improved UX will also cover Personalized Insights AND People-Centric Storage & Collaboration. There’s little doubt that these improvements will utilize the Office Graph and build on the work that Delve and Yammer have started within Office 365. 

The Office Graph visually builds a network of relevant users based on their (and your) tasks, activities, colleagues and so on. This can be further enhanced by the ability to embed social capabilities in various facets of the product. Furthermore, these Graph powered technologies will move to replace the MySite profiles of earlier SharePoint versions and the Organization charts that have been built into the product.

Real potential

In closing, the promised SharePoint 2016 developments really hit the spot, especially with renewed attention being given to the UI of the product for both the desktop and beyond. When this is coupled with the amazing potential of the Office Graph to provide a personalized, bespoke experience with the platform regardless of your entry point into SharePoint/Office 365, there’s plenty to get excited about.

This in itself, does lead to the interesting question of what happens next? Are we heading towards a world where the SharePoint brand eventually disappears and becomes a core technology in Office 365? Or will we see more of an integrated solution in place where Yammer becomes more important and usable within Office applications? Who can say? The journey should be an interesting one though!

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