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Microsoft Enhancing SharePoint Online Capabilities Next Month

Microsoft will preview SharePoint Online improvements next month, including an expanded limit on Hub Site creation plus scripting additions for automating site provisioning, according to a Tuesday Microsoft announcement.

More Hub Sites
Currently, organizations using SharePoint Online can create up to 50 Hub Sites. Next month, though, Microsoft will start permitting so-called "Targeted Release" users (users of Microsoft's test releases) to have up to 100 Hub Sites. This improvement, and a few others, will be available worldwide for production environment use "by the end of November," according to Microsoft's announcement.

Hub Sites are Microsoft's new "flat design" approach for SharePoint Online intranets. They won't be available for the premises-based SharePoint Server 2019 product, which is expected to arrive later this year.

Hub Sites might be used for a large functional area in an organization, such as the Human Resources department. They're used to tie together Communication Sites and Team Sites. Communication Sites are used for organizational communications, such as broadcasting a message, while Team Sites are intended for collaboration among members of a work group, according to Microsoft's formulation.

Hub Sites turn out to be a big focus for IT pros because SharePoint Online administrators are the only people empowered to create them (see diagram).

[Click on image for larger view.] Microsoft's Hub Sites scheme is used to link Communication Sites and Team Sites. Hub Sites can only be created by SharePoint administrators (source: Microsoft's "Planning Your SharePoint Hub Sites" document, June 12, 2018).

The use of Hub Sites is supposed to free organizations from the complexities and scalability issues associated with the use of classic SharePoint Subsites. Microsoft still supports Subsites, but they're seen as being harder to move than Hub Sites when things change in an organization, according to Microsoft's "Planning Your SharePoint Hub Sites" document.

Microsoft sees Hub Sites as improving the navigational experiences of end users. A SharePoint Online site can only be associated with one Hub Site, but Microsoft sees that limitation as not being so bad because of the improved navigation. Here's how Microsoft's document expressed that point:

Picking a hub may create some angst because an individual site can be associated with only one hub, but keep in mind that news, activity, and highlighted content is based on search, so it's possible to have content from one site appear on multiple hub home pages. A hub will default to only showing content from its own associated sites, but it's easy to configure it to include other related sites as well, even if those sites are associated with different hubs.

Hub Sites currently lack of "multi-geo capabilities" so some planning is involved when creating them. Apparently, though, Microsoft sees a need for organizations to have more Hub Sites by upping the maximum count.

Site Scripts
Microsoft designed it so that sites associated with Hub Sites will inherit the theme of the Hub Site. Next month, Microsoft will add a customization option that IT pros can set up. It will be possible to associate a script for further actions to be taken each time a Hub Site gets associated with other sites. Setting this up can automate the site customization process.

The added scripts can be used to "adjust and enforce permissions, apply shared metadata, preferred content management and policies," according to Microsoft's announcement. Three new scripts are listed at this page, along with templates. IT pros can also "scope" site designs, limiting them for specific end users or groups.

Microsoft defines a site script as "JSON [JavaScript Object Notation] files that specify an ordered list of actions to run when creating a new site." It's also possible to use PowerShell or the REST API to create site scripts, according to Microsoft's "SharePoint Site Design and Site Script Overview" document. The scripts can be set to trigger a Microsoft Flow for additional actions to take.

Other Improvements
Microsoft is adding a control to let site creators "modify the color of the site header region" of a SharePoint Online page. End users get the same default color but they'll also have the option to make the header's color lighter or darker, or they can opt for gray.

Microsoft also will make it easier next month for end users to share intranet news items within an organization. It's done by sharing links. The links can be accessed via a "News Link" option in SharePoint Online sites, or it can be accessed from the News Web Part. Shared links become accessible to others from the SharePoint news service, the home page and the SharePoint Mobile App.

Web Parts are getting "quick links" to create buttons, grids, lists and tiles. The Image Gallery Web Part will show images in "varying aspect ratios." The Hero Web Part will have an option to "set a focal point on each image." The News Web Part has a new carousel layout.

Additionally, Microsoft plans to improve the experience when others edit a SharePoint Online page. They'll get more information about the editor plus a contact link.

In related SharePoint news, Microsoft published an Office 365 Reporting Tool last month that lets IT pros generate more than 500 reports. It generates reports for services such as Azure Active Directory, Exchange Online and SharePoint Online, among others.

About the Author

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

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