The recent beta release of SharePoint 2013 brought with it many things. One of those was "apps."

CMSWire has covered this topic, but in a nutshell, SharePoint apps are stand-alone applications that can be installed and managed all on their own. Apps can be written using a number of web standards like HTML, JavaScript, ASP.NET and even PHP. Microsoft has a lot more information on apps over at MSDN.

The Confusion Begins

So far so good. But Microsoft has taken its concept of apps even further (or should that be deeper?) into the core of SharePoint. Lists and libraries, long staple SharePoint concepts, have been renamed as "apps."

When users want to add new content to a particular site they add an app from the "Your apps" page, which is accessible from a number of places (not least the good old "View all site contents" page). The Your apps page includes what we previously thought of as lists and libraries, as well as new, more traditional SharePoint 2013 apps. To add to the confusion, they are still referred to as list or libraries on this page, the term app is seemingly used more as a collective term.

They Call Them Apps, I Call it a Headache

When it comes to web parts things get even more confusing. In SharePoint 2010 we had lists and libraries, which all had associated web parts. In SharePoint 2013 we have "app parts" and web parts. App parts seem to be web parts associated with list and libraries (which are now apps). Web parts are standalone functionality, things like the content editor and content rollup web parts. However, there is also a category of web parts called app parts which show us our list and libraries again.

Confused? You should be. I certainly am.

Apps for SharePoint have been rumored for a long time, and are a welcome addition to the product. But Microsoft seems to have missed an opportunity to name everything clearly and logically. I know this is only a beta, and this could all change, but right now the situation looks confused. In the hope things do change, can I suggest something a bit simpler:

  • Lists and libraries remain as they did in SharePoint 2010. They are not apps, they are lists.
  • Web parts are renamed "Apps." Every single one of them. The name web part is retired. Any web part created when a list is created is now known as an app.
  • The new "SharePoint 2013 apps" exist as they do now, known as "apps."

So we have lists and apps, and that’s it. When a new list is created, a corresponding app is also created. Standalone apps also exist separately. Web parts, as we knew then, are blatantly app-like, so why not retire the web part name altogether? When users create new content (from the Site content page or similar) they create a list or an app. 

Isn’t that just a lot clearer than the situation we have now? So come on Microsoft, you have between now and the final release to sort out this terminology mess.

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

-- SharePoint App Store: Should Microsoft Vet Contents?