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Microsoft Issues SharePoint 2016's First Feature Pack

Microsoft is delivering on some its earlier SharePoint Server 2016 promises with the release of Feature Pack 1 on Tuesday.

The included improvements are aimed at SharePoint 2016 users and SharePoint Online subscribers, as well as for "hybrid" use cases. There are strong indications of hybrid use among organizations, in which on-premises SharePoint is combined with Office 365 services. A recently published vendor poll of 495 IT pros and SharePoint administrators found that 61 percent reported running "either full cloud or hybrid SharePoint environments." The undated survey results were collected from client pool samplings by vendors Hyperfish, Nintex and ShareGate.

Feature Pack 1 Perks
On the hybrid side, Microsoft has come through with Feature Pack 1. Microsoft is delivering Feature Pack 1 capabilities that were announced back in September. Organizations can get Feature Pack 1 through the November public update for SharePoint 2016. The pack unlocks some Office 365 feature improvements for organizations running SharePoint 2016 on their own server-farm infrastructures.

IT pros get some management perks with Feature Pack 1. They can track administrative actions in SharePoint's central admin Web portal or management shell. They can also use two new server roles, "Front-end with Distributed Cache" and "Application with Search," which support the new MinRole option in SharePoint 2016. The benefit of using the new server roles with MinRole is that it requires fewer servers to use the MinRole feature, which reduces server downtime during the patch update process.

Some features in Feature Pack 1 are at the preview stage. There's a hybrid infrastructure auditing capability called "Microsoft SharePoint Insights" in the pack, as well as a "hybrid taxonomy" metadata classification capability -- both at preview.

Feature Pack 1 also delivers interface improvements, such as the so-called "modern experience" for OneDrive for Business, which adds improved drag-and-drop capabilities for end users. There's also access to an API for OneDrive for Business, which can be used for integrating line-of-business apps. Lastly, the App Launcher tile-based interface, which provides end user access to SharePoint and Office 365 applications, becomes available with Feature Pack 1.

One catch is that the OneDrive for Business improvements in Feature Pack 1 will require having Software Assurance in place to use them. Software Assurance is an annuity that permits upgrades to the next software release within a contract term, but lately Microsoft has associated it with access to software feature updates.

SharePoint Online Team Sites
SharePoint Online users are starting to get the new integration of Office 365 Groups within SharePoint Team Sites. This capability is available this week for all "first release" testers, according to Microsoft's announcement. It's not clear when it will be available more broadly.

Users of this capability will see a Create Site button at the SharePoint home page, which starts a two-step creation process. Team Sites get automatically provisioned during the creation process.

"When you create a group, Office 365 gives the group a shared inbox, calendar, OneNote notebook, place for files, Planner for task management -- and now a modern team site with pages, lists, libraries and team news, so the group can collaborate, communicate and coordinate," Microsoft's announcement explained.

IT pros can specify the availability of this feature for end users. They can enforce site classifications. Sites can be provisioned as "classic, modern or custom" using settings, which are available within the SharePoint Online Admin Center.

Some organizations may have already built custom-site provisioning solutions. Consequently, Microsoft is promising to deliver updated guidance "so you can provision a new modern team site connected to Office 365 Groups (instead of a classic site)," according to the announcement, although the timeline for release wasn't specified.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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