The public beta of SharePoint 2013 is now available for download. Like everyone, we found lots of interesting things in this new version. Here are a few of our favorite things.

Social Extended

Everyone has been saying it -- SharePoint lacks in the social department. An interesting thing for a collaboration platform to be lacking many would say. Microsoft has made significant strides in SharePoint 2013 to change that -- and I’m not talking about the Yammer acquisition (although I’m sure there will be plenty of integration in that department in years to come). What I am talking about is the user profile.

SharePoint 2013 has extended the user profile to be more social than before. Users can now post their own descriptions, which is great. But even more interesting is that discussions started by the user and documents shared by the user (more on this next) are linked to the user’s profile. So now they can easily see what documents they shared and with who, what discussions they are involved in.

Also, you can now follow any object in SharePoint. And I mean any. A site, a document, a library, a list. You want to keep track of it, go ahead.

And then there’s this sharing thing. Microsoft has taken away the work in applying permissions to objects. It’s all still there, but SharePoint now does the heavy lifting. Instead of managing permissions, you now “share” your document or list with a person or persons. Ever used Google Docs? Shared a document? Same type of thing here. Easy to do.

But what about all those permissions you already have set up and are managing? No worries there. All your permissions will migrate with you to SharePoint 2013. You can still manage your permissions the traditional way, but if you are like me, you’ll be considered moving to the new model sooner rather than later.

Also new for social in SharePoint 2013 are the new Social Collaboration templates: Community Site and Community Portal, which take on a mix of Facebook and Twitter user experience, but meant for collaboration, not just social networking. If you don’t to create a brand new site, you can add the social collaboration capabilities to your current site.

Cloud Expanded

Yes, there is still an on-premises version of SharePoint 2013 -- you wouldn’t be able to download a beta if there wasn’t. But Microsoft is pushing its solutions towards the cloud in a big way.