For SharePoint aficionados, the past year can be divided into two: The time before Microsoft released the SharePoint 2016 preview and the time afterwards.

From January through the beta release in August, SharePoint conversations were generally speculative. What, everyone wondered, would the new release include? Once the first of two preview releases hit the market, the conversation shifted to pros and cons of the new version.

Despite all the debate and hand-wringing about SharePoint 2016, it's important to note that there's nothing definite about the general release yet, although some features in the preview are likely to remain in the final version when it comes out next year.

SharePoint 2016 is expected to be released sometime in early 2016, slightly ahead of an earlier middle of the year estimate.

Much to Like So Far

Early last month, Bill Baer, senior technical product manager for the SharePoint team, announced Microsoft would release the second SharePoint 2016 preview in a matter of weeks.

The release, which arrived Nov. 19, refined some of the features introduced in the SharePoint IT Preview released Aug. 23.

The improvements, which Baer said were made after consultation with Microsoft SharePoint customers, fall under four general headings:

  1. Profile synchronization: SharePoint Server 2016 Beta 2 offers support for Microsoft Identity Manager 2016, which enables bi-directional synchronization across identities across the datacenter and cloud
  2. Data Loss Prevention: Enhanced support for new Data Loss Prevention capabilities
  3. Extensible Hybrid App Launcher: App Launcher delivers a common access experience across applications and solutions in Office 365 and SharePoint Server 2016
  4. Profile Redirection: Enables profile management on-premises or in the cloud. Profiles can be extended for select users to Delve About Me and additional Office 365 experiences

No Time for Patience

Back in August, Baer wrote in a blog post: "We’ve been working hard to get this out to you, and we know you’ve been waiting patiently since we announced that it was coming."

That had to be the understatement of the year in the information management space.

Vendors, partners and customers have been waiting for news and previews of the new version from at least the middle of 2014, not to mention building their strategy around what might or might not be in SharePoint 2016.

Baer noted Microsoft has been "paying close attention to trends in content management, team collaboration, user experiences across devices, and how the cloud can be blended into existing on-premises scenarios in new and compelling ways."

These items, specifically, should find their way into features in the final, general release.

Hybrid SharePoint

SharePoint 2016 reflects Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s Cloud First, Mobile First vision.

There is also more than a whiff of hybrid here, and over the year a lot of people both inside and outside of Microsoft have been talking about that element of the software.

Much of that talk from the Microsoft perspective has been about Office 365, but there are other issues that need to be considered. One of the key issues is search, and the ability to search across on-premises and cloud-based SharePoint deployments.

According to Vlad Catrinescu, a SharePoint and Office 365 consultant and CMSWire contributor, the new Cloud Search service application, currently in preview, manages offers seamless integration between SharePoint on premises and SharePoint Online through one unified index in the cloud.

'We Like It ... Mostly'

The reaction to the SharePoint previews have been generally positive. However, Todd Klindt, a SharePoint consultant at Rackspace and CMSWire contributor, pointed out that Microsoft is also removing select features in this latest iteration. In particular, he noted the loss of:

  • SharePoint Foundation, which means there is no longer a free version of SharePoint
  • ForeFront Identity Manager client (FIM), identity management software designed to manage users' digital identities, credentials and groupings
  • Excel Services in SharePoint Server
  • The stsadm command-line tool (stsadm.exe)

Speeding to SharePoint

One of the associated issues around SharePoint 2016 is, of course getting onto it in the first place. Ultimately, the main questions enterprises need to answer is whether they should move to SharePoint 2016, Office 365 or should it just stay put?

There are no shortage of vendors offering migration service for those that decide to make the move.

Metalogix started the SharePoint 2016 rush by announcing that it had boosted the speed of data migration to SharePoint Online about 3900 percent over the average speed just 18 months ago. Its Content Matrix product, which incorporates Microsoft's migration API, enables users to move 20GB of data or more in just an hour across all workloads.

And Metalogix isn't the only vendor that's developed increased speed and accuracy in migration using the new API.

The options include Sharegate’s Insane Migration Mode, which was extended to include on-premises SharePoint migrations along with the Office 365 migrations, as well as a product from AvePoint.

The Decline of SharePoint 2010

The importance of migration cannot be overestimated, especially as earlier versions of SharePoint start reaching the end-of-life.

In October, Microsoft moved SharePoint 2010 into Extended Support, a near-death mode that will continue until 2020.

It didn’t induce as much panic as the end of support for Windows 7 or Windows XP. But it is causing a ripple of concern for organizations still using this older version of SharePoint.

Microsoft rarely, if ever, releases statistics about product use. However, AIIM (the Association of Information and Image Management) found SharePoint 2010 is still primarily used by 42 percent of more than 400 AIIM members it surveyed. In addition, 30 percent are still using SharePoint 2003 or SharePoint 2007 for at least some legacy content.

Social SharePoint

One other issue that has been on people’s mind this year — and every year since Office 365 was launched — has been how Yammer is going to fit into the whole SharePoint scenario. Some have seen its future as the social layer of SharePoint and Office 365.

In fact, Chris Wright, founder of business IT consultancy Fifty Five and Five, even predicted that by next May Yammer as a standalone product will have disappeared. He pointed out that many felt a bit deflated with the Yammer roadmap at Ignite and that all the signs are that the product is facing a crossroads.

While there were loads of new features unveiled, including access for external non-company users and the UX improvements, everything seemed a bit low key compared to Office 365 as a whole.

It's clear,” he wrote in a post for CMSWire, “that Microsoft sees Yammer features (or features inspired and powered by Yammer technology) as parts of Office 365. Nothing more.”

So where does that leave SharePoint for the coming year? The European SharePoint Conference in Stockholm in November confirmed the direction SharePoint will be taking in the new 12 months.

Leaving aside the big event — the final release of SharePoint 2016 — expect a lot of work around hybrid environments for SharePoint. That's relevant since about 60 percent of enterprises are tied to the on-premises version for the foreseeable future.

Microsoft has already confirmed that SharePoint 2016 will not be the last on-premises. What else will shake loose? A lot remains to be seen.

But with Microsoft pushing SharePoint hard, it won’t be long before all is revealed. Happy 2016.

Title image by Ryan McGuire