A First Look at SharePoint 2013

With SharePoint 2013 and Office 2013 on the horizon James Milne provides a quick overview of some of the major enhancements that SharePoint 2013 is going to provide and what some of these changes will mean to your business.

This article will focus on the “Big ticket” items to provide you with a high level overview to provide you with a quick understanding of where Microsoft has been investing its time in improving and enhancing the platform and we need to prefix this article with the usual caveats that SharePoint 2013 is still in the public beta release cycle so these features could very well change before the final release to market version of SharePoint 2013.

Going Social!

One of the biggest areas of change in SharePoint 2013 is the enhancements to the social aspects of business and collaboration. Businesses and large enterprises can finally start leveraging some of the social features the internet communities have been enjoying for some time. Business users can choose to “Follow” “People”, “Documents” and even “Sites”. This allows the user to monitor “activities” at a number of levels. You can also leverage your corporate social networks by being able to view what your colleagues are following.

These social features also extend to “Likes”, “Tags” and “@mentions”.  These features builds on the principles that you and your colleagues would share common “communities of interest” and allows SharePoint to surface this information in a familiar manner that a number of users are already working with on a daily basis in their social lives.

This means SharePoint 2013 can become the corporate face book or twitter within a corporate context. We have already seen a number of corporations implementing “Social Intranets” on SharePoint 2010, however these social intranets are tipped to become more common place as businesses will soon be able to benefit from out-of-the-box features of SharePoint 2013.

If this trend towards Social Intranets continues we can expect to see a marked change in the way companies create and share content internally. Just think of how many emails you can cut down on when you can simply follow a document, person or site that interests you. No more emails to “All Staff” declaring you have just finished your document! You can choose to follow what interests you.

Version Management

The versions of a document in SharePoint 2010 were actually complete copies of each version of the file. As the number of versions increase so does the amount of storage required to store the file and the version history. The internal manner in which document versions are handled has changed dramatically from SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2013.  

The version history in SharePoint 2013 only stores the changes to the file. This functionality is achieved by only storing the changes to the document. This will ensure that sections that have not been modified are removed to ensure optimal storage and that only the changes from one version to the next will be stored in the SQL Database. This fundamental change will ensure the size of your content databases will not become bloated with redundant information. For example, we have seen an issue with a client  who had stored 700MB of policies and procedures in SharePoint 2010, however the version history was left unmanaged and the content database grew to over 6GB in size.

This is just a simple example of how leaving the version history unmanaged can lead to extreme storage waste and SharePoint 2010 chewing up large chunks of expensive SQL Storage space.

User Interface

The “new interface formally known as ‘metro’” provides a new “crisp” and “clean” interface that allows you to focus on content and provides an ideal interface for the next wave of slates and tablets which are about to hit the streets with the upcoming Windows 8 release. The browser support for SharePoint 2013 has changed and SharePoint 2013 will be supporting IE 8,9 and 10. Other popular browsers such as Chrome, FireFox and Safari are supported.

The interesting thing to note is that some of the legacy browsers like IE 6 and IE 7 are no longer supported. This is because the new SharePoint 2013 web interface no longer relies on ActiveX components to perform some of the sophisticated operations such as “multiple file upload” and the “DataSheet” functionality. Instead these operations are now supported through DHTML and Ajax support build into the newer web browsers.

Design Mode

As the popularity of SharePoint grows, Microsoft has recognised that the “skinning” of SharePoint has to be made simpler to enable traditional graphic design houses to cope with the popular request of “making SharePoint not look like SharePoint”.  

This can be achieved, but it usually requires some specialist skills in the area of creating MasterPages, which is usually an easy task for a SharePoint specialist, but a real challenge for a graphic designer. Unfortunately, it is a rare combination to find a SharePoint specialist that is also a great graphic designer. The reason why this is such a challenge is each of these roles require skills in very different tools sets. For example the SharePoint specialist spends a lot of time in SharePoint Designer and Visual Studio, whereas the graphic designer spend a lot of their working life in tools such as PhotoShop and Dreamweaver. Unfortunately, in SharePoint 2010 these toolsets could not be further apart in skills and platform functionality.

The great news is that in SharePoint 2013 the Microsoft product team has recognised this great divide and have provided a bridge to help close the chasm between the graphic designer and the SharePoint specialist. This means your graphic designers can start using the new “Design Mode” to create great looking MasterPages to ensure your new SharePoint site doesn’t look like SharePoint .

SharePoint 2013 has increased the support for mobile devices by automatically redirecting mobile devices to a mobile view of the site. This is ideal for a variety of devices such as Smart Phones and slates.

These mobile devices have a choice of  “classic” or “contemporary” mobile views. SharePoint 2013 also introduces the concept of “Device Channels” so you can provide a device specific user interface complete with its own device specific MasterPage. This opens up a number of possibilities for creating web sites that adapt the user interface based on the device being used to browse the site.

Imagine your next corporate portal that adapts to smartphones, slates or even set top boxes and the site layout adapts to take advantage of the screen real estate which is available on the specific device!

Discovery Center & Team Folders

The generation of corporate content is reaching amazing levels as the avenues for communication increase from traditional emails to newer technologies such as Instant Messenger and Blogs and Wikis. Corporations need understand what constitutes a “record” in their environment and how they can manage and dispose of these records in these new mediums. SharePoint 2013 introduces “Team Folders” which can aggregate content from SharePoint content and Email and Instant Messenger content from Exchange. This will provide a single unified platform for managing this content from a records and retention perspective.

SharePoint 2013 has moved to a new “unified search platform” which basically means the core search service has been replaced by the FAST Search Engine. The search results are personalised based on your past search history which provides more meaningful search results because the search service effectively “learns” what topics you are interested in.

The search results also include rich contextual previews of the content so you do not need to open each document to see if it is the document you are looking for. The document preview appears as a bubble next to the item on the result page as you mouse over the entry. 

The ability to preview the document from the search results is provided by “Office Web Applications” which can also be used to preview documents in place or even edit the documents through a web browser. This feature was available in SharePoint 2010, however the functionality in SharePoint 2013 has increased to the level that you can now edit your office documents on any mobile device that has a web browser.

At first glance there are a number of major enhancements coming in SharePoint 2013 which will build on the previous functionality of SharePoint 2010. 

As this is now the 5th generation of SharePoint we are starting to see the SharePoint platform round out some of areas such as records management and mobile support, and we are starting to see some completely new features such as social capabilities being added to the product.

Overall SharePoint 2013 is shaping up to be a well rounded platform for any organisation looking for a single platform for Enterprise Content Management.  If your organisation isn’t big enough to have your own IT Department you should look into Office 365 as all these feature an more are available as a cloud service.

James Milne is a SharePoint MVP with Myriad Technologies. Email Info@Myriadtech.com.au.