MySPC 2012

Well, Microsoft’s SharePoint Conference 2012 has come to a close, and I’m writing this post on the plane flying back to Boston. It was a humdinger of a conference. Not only was this the largest SharePoint conference on record, having it in Las Vegas made everything seem just that much bigger and flashy.

2012-11-12 09.45.38Whether it was strolling the Exhibit Hall or the halls of the convention center or sitting in one of the over 250 sessions, all the buzz was about SharePoint 2013, which was released to manufacturing (RTM – a Microsoft term for”shipped” ). While only one of my clients has indicated any real interest in 2013 at this point (I do a mix of SharePoint 2007 and 2010 work these days), it was hard not to be swept up in the fever around this new release. SharePoint 2013 is a huge undertaking in its own right, but Microsoft has also RTMed Office 2013 and Windows 8 in concert, and there was a lot of information at SPC about the great integration across those toolsets.

SharePoint 2013 Unveiled: Live from Las Vegas

Thursday I had the honor of participating in a webinar for SusQTech’s ’30 on Thursday’ series called SharePoint 2013 Unveiled: Live from Las Vegas. Liam Cleary and I talked about the key takeaways we had from attending SPC this week. Since our perspectives are different and we do different types of work, of course we keyed in on different aspects of 2013. In the webinar, I talked about my three main takeaways from SPC. You can listen to the free webinar recording when it’s available if you are interested.

The Democratization of SharePoint Development

With the new App Model and the ability to host apps off-SharePoint, the market opens up to developers of many stripes, as long as those stripes blend into the colors of the Web development savannah. I’ve been promoting this for quite a few years now, and I’m truly glad to see it happen under Microsoft’s auspices. Now we have “official” ways to use JavaScript, jQuery, etc. to create SharePoint apps, and in fact, many SharePoint apps will be all JavaScript apps. I’m not saying that the .NET model hasn’t been a successful way to build upon SharePoint, I’m saying that now we have the options that I think we need to push the envelope even further on usability and distributed processing where it makes good sense.

New Search Features

The most exciting new Search feature is, for me, hands down the Content Search Web Part. This little beauty will be a game changer. What it allows you to do is surface content from anywhere in the farm using custom display templates. That means that it truly no longer matters where content lives, as long as it is correctly constructed and  tagged so that search can identify it. Think of the CQWP as the Content Query Web Part with nuclear power. The underlying search engine in 2013 is greatly improved to start with and the CSWP makes it sing. Think of this example: a CSWP in a page in a Community of Practice or Center of Excellence site could surface collaborative content a from across the Site Collection which meets certain keyword or content inclusion criteria, with ratings and usage metrics used as further filters. All this can happen with the expected, appropriate security trimming for each individual user or permissions groups. The UI for the CSWP is simple enough to allow a Site Administrator to set it up, with added capabilities for writing more complex queries in the advanced mode.

Access 2013 Apps

While I can see that there are some parts of Access 2013 story which haven’t quite been written yet, this approach to developing SharePoint applications shows great promise, as Ruven Gotz (@ruveng) and I have discussed in person and had been hoping on his blog. Access has always been an underrated development environment in my opinion, seen as underpowered and rejected in favor of more complicated server-based tools over the last half dozen years or so. With this release’s ability to store its content in SQL Server in Azure, the corporate IT concern that the data isn’t controllable and secure is mitigated. The tool itself has taken on a wonderfully minimalistic likeness of the Windows 8 UI (aka Metro) which is clean yet extremely capable for building real applications.

2012-11-14 17.09.55The integration with SharePoint isn’t fully there yet, and SharePoint list data can only be used in read-only mode in the release. However, I can see a path forward where Access 2013 becomes a viable replacement for InfoPath, and given that InfoPath received no development love this go-around it may well be what Microsoft is thinking as well. Forms development becomes easier, at least to me, and with the underlying data constructs and event triggers we have an environment ready to take off. When we hear “in this release” from Microsoft, we’re used to thinking three years or so, but my gut tells me that paradigm is about to be broken in a significant way, so stay tuned on this one.

But Wait, There’s More…

Other things worthy of note are the new Design Manager capabilities for building out your branding and the improved workflow capabilities of SharePoint Designer. SharePoint Designer itself has become a bit of an orphan, as it loses the Design and Split views in 2013. While the Design Manager capabilities can fill some of that gap (but only with the Server license when Publishing is enabled) we have a gap there which isn’t filled by anything other than perhaps Access 2010.

Improved Social in 2013 + Yammer

Social in 2013 is leaps and bounds beyond what 2010 gives us. We can follow people, documents, sites, and tags. We can monitor our own newsfeeds and access that content via rich client side APIs. But the real ace in the hole here is going to be Yammer. While I’m impressed with Yammer as it stands, the best is unknown and yet to come, I think. I’m impressed with the SharePoint integration points that Yammer has already built in the few months since the purchase by Microsoft. But I think the real secret sauce they bring to the table is their deep knowledge of rapid feature development and deployment in a true SaaS approach. Microsoft can leverage that knowledge and significantly learn from it. If they don’t, and instead wipe the secret sauce away, then it is at their peril. While there are a lot of positive things to say about Microsoft’s products, they simply cannot continue in the three year “enterprise” cycle they have followed for the last few decades. Yammer’s mindset (and to a lesser degree, Skype‘s) can push Microsoft out of this rut into being a nimble and potent “player” in social or any other part of the stack. By pushing out regular new features and existing feature refreshes, Microsoft can start to act more like its competition has been acting for a long time now. We see the vision in the vast array of current releases that follow the same patterns in design and development; having them continue to evolve rapidly and in concert would be a stellar improvement.

There was plenty more information for IT Pros and Business people as well, of course, but I focused almost exclusively on the Development track. Since the session videos will be available online, I’ll probably try to catch on some of the better ones based on the tweets I saw throughout the conference later.

All Work and No Play…

Oh, and the parties. Vegas isn’t known for low key events, and neither do people at a conference there act that way. Everything was bigger, louder, flashier, and more exciting than last year’s SPC in Anaheim. Here were the events I was lucky enough to attend.

  • US MVP breakfast on Wednesday morning
  • Dinner Wednesday night at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon with Michal Pisarek (@michalpisarek), Denise Ching (@deniseching), and Cindy Hui (@CindyHui2). OK, so this wasn’t really a party, but it was the best meal of the week for me. Food photos here.
  • The SharePoint City party at Tryst on Wednesday night, sponsored by Axeler, Jornata, and many more. For some reason, they had Pamela Anderson show up. Go figure. vegas logo2012-11-14 22.37.45

Wrap Up

All in all, this SPC was the biggest Microsoft event I’ve ever attended, with more information and more glitz than ever. Thanks to everyone on the event planning and logistics staff for all of the yeoman’s work. No, everything wasn’t perfect. The lack of wireless capabilities during almost the entire conference certainly detracted from getting information and messaging out that Microsoft should have wanted people not in attendance to hear. There were many sessions that were far to popular for the size of the room the were held in. Predicting this sort of thing is hard, but MySPC should have given a better handle on things. There were too many sessions at any given time to even try to learn about much out side one’s own “track”, though the videos will help with that after the fact. We easily spot these shortcomings and can’t see many of the things that simply went right. The staff at the Mandalay Bay complex were so helpful and knowledgeable most of the time that it was almost creepy, they really seem to enjoy their work and making things go well for us attendees.

So, a big thank you to everyone who had any part of the panning and execution. I hope to see you in ??? next year!