Microsoft Starts Rolling Out SharePoint Online Improvements

Office 365 subscribers will soon receive several SharePoint Online improvements, as described by Microsoft recently.

The improvements appear to be just for organizations using the so-called "modern" page designs available with the SharePoint Online service, per Microsoft's December announcement. Possibly, some of the improvements could eventually show up for SharePoint Server 2019 users, but if so, that'll happen with some future Feature Pack update.

On top of the new enhancements, administrators of SharePoint Online tenancies are getting the ability to hide Webparts that pull data from non-Microsoft services. Examples include Twitter, Kindle and YouTube Webparts, which are all included in the default SharePoint toolbox. Those Webparts can be hidden from end users using the PowerShell cmdlet Set-SPOTenant -DisabledWebPartIds, the announcement explained.

New Webparts
The new Webparts coming to Office 365 tenancies include "Yammer Conversations," "Countdown Timer," "Code Snippet," "Markdown," "YouTube," "My Recent Documents" and "My Frequent Sites." The latter two Webparts are described as being "aware" of who's signed in and can thereby deliver a "relevant experience" for end users, Microsoft's announcement explained.

The Yammer Conversations Webpart lets users place Yammer conversations onto any SharePoint Online "page, news article or site," according to the December announcement. However, Microsoft's existing "Yammer Highlights" Webpart, which is specifically designed to "show targeted conversation threads," will continue to work. Yammer Highlights is conceived as being complementary to the new Yammer Conversations Webpart.

The Countdown Timer Webpart can be added to show the time remaining until an important event happens. Timers can be added to Home Pages, News Articles, Team Sites, Communication Sites and Hub Sites. This capability apparently is based on the Microsoft Flow solution.

The Code Snippet Webpart displays code on a page using the correct syntax. The Markdown Webpart converts plain text to HTML. The YouTube Webpart provides a means of adding YouTube videos to pages using YouTube links.

Improvements to existing SharePoint Online features also are coming. Microsoft Stream videos added to SharePoint Home Pages and News Articles can now be sorted by tags, such as "Trending, Publish date, Views and Likes." The "Quick Chart" Webpart now permits users to "select a list on the current site to use as the data source."

Page Designs Improvements
Microsoft described coming SharePoint Online improvements in an announcement this week, as well, although it repeats some of what was described last month. Most of the coming improvements, though, are either "in development" or "rolling out," so Office 365 subscribers may not be seeing them.

SharePoint Online users will be getting a "Page Designs" capability, which lets site owners save a page as a template with the aim of establishing a consistent format for content. The saved template then becomes available within the template picker for creating new pages. The Page Designs capability was listed at press time as being "in development."

The governance question regarding the Page Designs feature was discussed in a chat between Sean Squires, a senior program manager on the SharePoint team and Mark Kashman, senior product manager, in an Intrazone podcast link (contained within Microsoft's announcement). The gist is that Microsoft wants to empower SharePoint "site design for the masses." SharePoint site owners can create site scripts from existing objects and they don't have to be JSON experts to do it. Previously, such control was solely in the hand of IT administrators, but Microsoft wants to extend it to SharePoint site owners, too.

Policies can be applied to sites after they have been created, Kashman noted, regarding the Page Designs feature. Squires said that administrators can scope what the site owners can do, and "we're looking into that."

It'll be possible for site owners to see the site designs that get saved in the design panel. That feature was described as "rolling out."

Other Additions
Another possible concern for IT pros is that "Yammer group files in Office 365 connected groups will now be stored in SharePoint." This change, which is still "in development," apparently can affect the editing of existing stored Yammer files. Here's how Microsoft's announcement described that aspect:

As part of this change, all existing files stored in Yammer for connected groups are made read-only. This means that instead of editing a file, you'll need to download and re-upload the file, and edit the newly uploaded version.

Microsoft's announcement declared that the new SharePoint Admin Center in the Office 365 Portal is now available worldwide, or rolling out. It can serve as the default management portal for SharePoint Online administrators. Portal capabilities include:

  • Group-connected site management
  • Hub Site management and configuration
  • OneDrive sharing controls
  • Default site creation and policy controls
  • Service health and activity information

The ability to block document downloads for Office Online end users but still permit document views is a SharePoint Online addition that is currently in development. It'll also be possible for global SharePoint Online administrators to block content access by unmanaged devices.

A future SharePoint Online addition will be the ability to customize the "title region of each page." The options will include "four layouts, two alignment choices, text badges above the title, the ability to change the displayed author, and show or hide the published date," Microsoft's announcement explained, although it's unclear when these capabilities will arrive. Another addition will be the ability to add background shading to page sections, a capability that's "in development." The ability to control the order of news on a page will be a future addition. Another addition will be the ability to pull Bing Maps location data into columns on SharePoint Lists, a capability that's "rolling out."

Some user interface additions are coming. Microsoft is planning to put the "Social Bar" (also called the "Content Bar"), which shows viewer "Likes," at the bottom of pages below the Comment section. A megaphone icon will be coming to the top of SharePoint sites that will show user options "based on the context of what you are doing."

OneDrive and OneDrive for Business currently are getting a new "Fluent" design. As a consequence, SharePoint Online users will get an updated look and feel. For instance, it'll "bring the full-fidelity of shared libraries into OneDrive," Microsoft promised.

In addition, it's going to be possible to scan a document or image from an Android or iOS mobile device and save it with metadata tags on OneDrive, a capability that's "rolling out." Microsoft also has a "reminder e-mails" capability in development for OneDrive e-mail link sharing that will send a reminder to a recipient if the link hasn't been clicked within seven days.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.