The keynote of any Microsoft conference is really not to be missed, it is when the entire group comes together to hear the latest and greatest and to get a glimpse into the vision of the product team. Any good keynote will have some surprises, laughter and good demos. Yesterday's SharePoint Conference keynote fit the bill and in some cases raised the bar for keynote events. A great foundation was presented that will really carry us through this next release of the product. Here I touch on the high points and focus on the aspects that really detail the future of SharePoint.

The Community

As Jared Spataro started the keynote, the first group he mentioned was the community. So who really is the SharePoint community? Well, that one is easy -- YOU are! The community is made of all the users of SharePoint who are engaged and active in the conversation around SharePoint. Microsoft is listening to the community and recognizes the impact they have on the success of any product.

What makes a product strong and quick to grow is a community that embraces the product and follows it with passion and commitment. For Microsoft to step the plate and first off thank the community and mention specifically the things that they have learned from the community shows that they are listening and that they are engaged and committed to the community.

And, if there are really any doubts about the power of the community when it comes together, then just think of how quickly the #SPC12 hashtag started to trend in the #1 spot during the keynote session. The community is large and powerful and can really come together to impact the future of SharePoint.

Simplicity & Ease

Once the keynote got going the real focus switched to the ability for users to work with SharePoint in a way that could be described as simplistic and easy. Bringing the data directly to the users so that they could focus on their work and not really have to think about how to best use the tool.

The UI in SharePoint has been updated with the end user in mind, things that were at one time hidden or hard to find are now easy and natural, leading to a much quicker adoption of the toolset. If the tools become easy to access and easy to use, then users will take advantage of them and then become empowered to collaborate and communicate together.

Out of all of the features that displayed how these new features come together, none were quite as powerful as the new search and social features. Searching is now a tool that can not only return information to users based on exact search terms, but can also be configured to guide users to the data that they probably want through the configuration of query rules.

The example discussed in the keynote was around the idea that if a user searches on the term "deck" or "marketing" that they are likely looking for a PowerPoint presentation that details information about their offerings or services. While it is likely that the results they are looking for don't have the exact words in the document or title, it is highly likely that is what they are trying to get.

The user may not even really understand the exact terms that they should search on, but now they can search in general and still get to specific information. Once the search is executed they can quickly look through and review the documents using the Office Web Apps preview to narrow down to the exact document that they are looking for. And the beauty of OWA is that they are able to see previews of the content quickly, saving them the time they could lose from opening documents that they weren't really looking for.

And it doesn't stop with Search, because this natural type of integration carries over to many of the new features. Many things, that by themselves are seemingly small changes, when combined together really show a complete solution that is created with the end users in mind. To be honest I could probably keep writing for days on the new features and how they will make your life easier!

For now though, the best advice I could give you is that seeing is believing! I know that just reading about the changes is likely to make you curious, but the real proof will be when you start working with the UI and can see the benefits and how they impact your daily tasks.

To the Cloud!

The next shocker of the keynote came when Jeff Teper shared with the audience that the entire demo had been done using one of the international data centers that hosts Office 365. This really shows Microsoft's trust in its solution and is fully behind the cloud. And, while this can be a point of much discussion and debate, the truth is that the future is going to be one that is richly focused on creating hosted solutions.

Learning Opportunities

Using this approach provides a way for organizations to get the best in class offerings and be able to remain focused on the business, providing solutions to address business needs and relying on the hosting providers to work on the details around the environment.

I think it is safe to say that hosting will not be an option for everyone, but it should always be explored as an option. This is definitely the approach that Microsoft is moving towards, and it can be seen by its commitment to release a new product release every 90 days. This iterative approach will put them in a position to respond quickly to an ever changing workforce and aligns closely to the way users have come to expect solutions to behave. I for one am personally looking forward to seeing how this impacts the industry and user adoption. The possibilities are endless, and now we just need to give it some time to see how it all works together.

Why Yammer?

Once the conversation turned towards the importance of hosting applications it was quick to make the connection to Yammer. Since Microsoft already has the best when it comes to collaboration, why not combine with a team that has the best in social and is built as a full cloud solution.

Yammer brings many great things that make the SharePoint story a more social story. During the keynote several demos were presented that show how the two products can be integrated together. The point being that making an easy and accessible social story will naturally lead to an empowered group of employees that can together work towards the vision of the organization.

And since Yammer comes to the table with a proven track record of releasing products in an quick, iterative fashion that is tightly controlled by the demands of the user base it is easy to see how the merger is going to be a key factor in the success of the vision of the SharePoint team.

What is Next?

To sum things up, I think it is safe to say that there are still a few unanswered questions, but that the future of SharePoint looks amazing! SharePoint 2013 is going to change the way that your organization uses SharePoint. The vision shared today was grand and is definitely a "wait and see" type of situation, but I am betting high on the team and eagerly watching to see how things come together for future releases.

And even if you don't agree with every aspect and you don't think it all applies to your organization, I would encourage you to dig in and see for yourself the power that comes with the changes that are available with this release. It's all about the user and providing them with a natural environment that fosters them towards collaborating and working together using the tools they are used to every day and in ways that they have come to expect.

We have heard for years the concept around the consumerization of IT, and now we seem to be embarking on the consumerization ofSharePoint. It will definitely be a fun and interesting journey to watch and given time all of the unanswered questions will be addressed. I encourage you though, not to let any unknowns keep you from jumping in with both feet to see the value that SharePoint 2013 can bring to your organization.