It's been a lot of fun trying out the new version of SharePoint so far. Microsoft has done a great job this time, putting out a ton of documentation, training and videos as soon as this preview version became available. There's a lot to read, but it has also been great trying everything out and digging in a bit to see the new functionalities in action.
So far, my favorite improvement areas are social networking and workflows. In this article I will highlight some of the aspects that have been changed from previous versions, and will mention some of my favorite new features.
The social networking capabilities in SharePoint are now much more natural to every day work. These functionalities are so pervasive throughout the product, that it doesn’t feel like you have to go out of your way to participate socially in your enterprise. Some of the features aren’t necessarily new; they have just been made more obvious and rearranged in some cases and enhanced in other cases. For example, there is a new site template called the Community Site, which is new, but based around the familiar discussion boards.
When it comes to My Sites and Profiles, a lot of the familiar components are there, such as the ability to edit your profile, see the organization structure and have your own content. Instead of marking people as “colleagues” to follow them, though, the terminology is more clear. Now, you simply “follow” people or content in SharePoint. These social features also look a bit different because of some reorganization of the user interface.
Below, I’ve highlighted some of the new and modified aspects of the My Site:
- Newsfeed -- You can see the social activities of people and content that you are following, and also toggle to an Everyone tab or a Mentions tab. You can even toggle to Activities, which is your own activities or Likes, which is a big list of all of the stuff in SharePoint that you like. Perfect! With Likes, this is like creating your own list of favorites. You could do a lot of these things in 2010, but they’re just easier and a lot more obvious now. There is even a summary web part on the newsfeed, showing how many things you are following, and even some trending #Tags (just as before, you can tag anything in SharePoint).
- About Me -- This screen contains your own familiar newsfeed, with a link to edit your profile. It is a lot simpler in this version so you are not overwhelmed with information.
- SkyDrive Pro -- Remember the “Shared Documents” library on your My Content site in 2010? SkyDrive Pro is that same document library, but it and all libraries have enhancements now that make it super obvious how to share content with other people. Not only is it easier to share, it is easier to see what others have shared with you. Besides looking at your own documents, there is also a link to see your “followed documents": documents all over SharePoint that you are following.
- Tasks -- Good news! Although this may look like the same old task list you are familiar with, it's now much better. The task list is better because now you don’t have tasks randomly spread out across sites and sub-sites all over the enterprise. When you look at Tasks on My Site, all of the tasks that are assigned to you are all rolled up to show on this page, from everywhere in the SharePoint farm. This even includes tasks from Outlook.
Simply put, there's much improved stability and scalability with the new workflows in SharePoint Designer 2013. This is not the same old workflow engine. SharePoint 2013 workflows run on the Azure workflow engine, which can be installed on a separate server from SharePoint. Besides the new engine and architectural changes, there are a lot of enhancements to the workflow design interface and experience.
There is a new visual designer for workflows, which is similar to what you may have seen in some of the third party workflow apps. In 2010, you could create a workflow in Visio and then import it into SharePoint Designer, but now this functionality is much improved!
You can still do the old import/export thing, but now there is also a visual designer that lets you design the workflows by dragging shapes onto the surface right inside SharePoint Designer. You can toggle between this new Visual Designer, and the old familiar Text-Based Designer. Visio has to be installed on the same computer on which you are creating workflows with SharePoint Designer 2013.
Another great addition is that true stages have been introduced, which means that the workflow does not have to run only top to bottom anymore. Loops can be created and GoTo actions have been added, which can take the running workflow to any other stage. The loops can even be set to run a certain number of times, or with certain conditions and expressions.
One more very useful and time saving bonus with workflows is that there are now copy and paste options available. Thank you, thank you!
In summary, SharePoint 2013 will take a bit of getting used to, but I think that it will be worth it. I recommend that you try it out and see for yourself. :) If you don’t have a spare server to install everything, go ahead and sign up to try out the new version on Office 365.