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Microsoft Nudges SharePoint Online Users Toward 'Modern' UI

An upcoming change to SharePoint Online will effectively push some organizations away from the earlier "classic" user interface (UI) and toward Microsoft's so-called "modern" UI for Lists and Libraries.

Beginning in April, Microsoft will alter some of the tenant-level blocking capabilities that may have been set up by organizations, according to an announcement this week by Chris McNulty, a senior product marketing manager for SharePoint.

McNulty noted that Microsoft is planning to make this change only for organizations using the classic UI that have "opted out of modern lists via the tenant setting." These organizations will be "automatically shifted" to the modern UI setting.

Based on the FAQ section in Microsoft's announcement, it seems that end users won't necessarily see the modern UI changes on Lists and Libraries when the switch gets made, at least initially. The FAQ explained that the switch will be more of change in the administrator settings:

This update is only a change to the administrative settings, not the user interface. It makes it simpler to deploy modern experiences to more users, while providing enhanced tools to identify and manage lists and libraries that need to stay classic. 

Microsoft also doesn't anticipate breaking changes occurring for its customers if they used the "modern opt-out mode," according to a Microsoft spokesperson:

We do not anticipate customers that used the modern opt-out mode for their SharePoint Online tenancies will experience breaks or unavailable service. As we noted, we test for rendering issues in modern experiences and automatically downgrade to classic if we see them. Organizations that want to limit a site to classic mode only will need to use PowerShell, or individual list and library settings.

A few exceptions will be in effect. The classic UI may persist due to "granular opt-out switches that we provide at the site collection, site, list and library levels" and also when there's no modern UI substitute, McNulty explained. Microsoft is committed to delivering modern UI replacements, but its development work is an ongoing process.

The settings change will apply to organizations using SharePoint Online, where subscribers are considered to be "tenants" using shared infrastructure. In contrast, SharePoint Server users, using their own infrastructures, aren't affected.

The modern UI in SharePoint Online is thought to have a more user-friendly interface than the classic UI. Customizations built for the modern UI, though, depend on using the newer SharePoint Framework development model, so organization possibly may be sticking with the classic UI for that reason.

The classic mode is still a viable option for organizations, and Microsoft has "no plans to remove classic mode," according to the announcement. However, clearly the intent of the coming administrative settings change is to give organizations a little push toward the modern UI.

Such efforts have been seen before. Back in July, Microsoft removed a setting that prevented SharePoint Online end users from creating modern sites because of an Office 365 Groups creation restriction.

If an organization wants to restrict its end users to the classic UI, then IT pros have two options, but they involve some work. First, IT pros can use the SharePoint Modernization scanner to identify the sites that have customizations not supported by the modern UI, and then they can run a PowerShell script for a single site or for site collections to enable or disable the Modern UI, according to McNulty. Alternatively, there's a "return to classic" option for modern lists and libraries that's configurable via "List Settings," he added.

Update 1/17: A link to the PowerShell script to stay in classic mode can be found in this blog post by Chris We, a premier field engineer at Microsoft.

About the Author

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

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