A couple of years ago I wrote here about the dangers of “look and feel fever” when working on SharePoint projects. This is where the UI of a SharePoint implementation is customized, and the client subsequently becomes obsessed with what the system looks like rather than what it offers functionally. It is with this in mind that I noted the SharePoint 2013 announcement on the official Microsoft SharePoint blog.

Under the Hood is What Counts

This particular passage caught my eye:

Use SharePoint as an out-of-box application whenever possible -- We designed the new SharePoint UI to be clean, simple and fast and work great out-of-box. We encourage you not to modify it which could add complexity, performance and upgradeability and to focus your energy on working with users and groups to understand how to use SharePoint to improve productivity and collaboration and identifying and promoting best practices in your organization.”

This statement has sparked a bit of a mini debate in certain sections of the SharePoint community. Is this official advice from MIcrosoft, a shift in view? Is Microsoft saying that clients shouldn’t expect branding, or custom navigation and UI elements?

Jeff Teper, Corporate Vice President of SharePoint at Microsoft, clarified the comments thus:

I've seen many SharePoint deployments where they would have been better off out of box and with the new UI we want to be really clear on that. I do think we're helping customers by being more vocal on this vs. last round. But there will also be places where people write code which we want to support better in the new model but also want to encourage folks to be thoughtful about their code.”

Like Jeff, I have seen many SharePoint deployments where the UI has been heavily customized. In fact I would say the vast majority of projects I have been involved in have had a significant branding and UI element.

Out-of-the-Box May be Enough

In my previously mentioned piece I argued that time spent on such endeavors would be better spent looking at functionality and content. Jeff seems to be advocating a slightly different view, though one that reaches the same conclusions. He is focusing on the importance of providing a stable performant solution, and appears concerned that custom code can be the quickest route to undermining this. He does share my view though that the out-of-the-box feature set should be enough for many customers:

Learning Opportunities

Our take is for core collaboration, document sharing, social, etc. a number of customers would be better off using the new default experience. I know this is generality but I think some customers have leaned too far the other way [from ‘out of the box’] so I want us to lean the other way.”

What is most interesting about these comments is that they now come from the SharePoint team directly. Previously it was a matter of debate within the wider SharePoint ecosystem, and no similar comments were forthcoming from Microsoft when SharePoint 2010 was released.

Whilst it might be pushing it to say it is "official advice," it is the closest thing we have. It won’t of course close down the debate, indeed posts and comments are already cropping up strongly disagreeing with Jeff. But when a company makes a product, and then tell you to avoid customizing it in a certain way, you really should be listening.

Editor's Note: To read more by Chris Wright:

-- SharePoint has Yammer, Now it Needs To Up Its Social Game