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Microsoft's 2019 SharePoint Conference: The Top Announcements

Microsoft's recent SharePoint Conference was a typically dense affair, with announcements spanning nearly everything under the Microsoft 365 and Office 365 umbrellas.

For the most part, however, the news focused on coming SharePoint Online improvements for Office 365 subscribers, rather than SharePoint Server improvements.

Jeff Teper, corporate vice president for OneDrive, SharePoint and Office, gave the keynote talk during the event this week, which is available as an on-demand "virtual summit" talk here. For those wanting more, there's an Intrazone audio recording of Teper that's available, too. Microsoft also released multiple blog posts with announcements, which can be found throughout this article.

SharePoint Server
Microsoft had just a couple of things to say about SharePoint Server products in an announcement. It's adding support on Azure Stack for running SharePoint Server 2016 or SharePoint Server 2019, although the timing wasn't described. Azure Stack is Microsoft's Azure "datacenter in a box" appliance offered by hardware partners that lets organizations run Azure services on their own servers.

In addition, it's possible to use Azure SQL Database Managed Instance with SharePoint Server 2019. Once again, it wasn't clear from the announcement if the capability was available yet. With Managed Instance, Microsoft is promising "near 100% compatibility with the latest SQL Server on-premises (Enterprise Edition) Database Engine," while Microsoft takes care of the patching. The Managed Instance service is aimed at organizations wanting to move applications to Microsoft's "cloud" while leveraging a compatible database management solution.

SharePoint Spaces
Microsoft's surprise at last year's SharePoint Conference was SharePoint Spaces, a way of building 3-D SharePoint Online sites that provide mixed-reality experiences for users wearing headsets. At this year's event, Microsoft showed off the use of SharePoint Spaces for viewing its "campus" headquarters, as well as Microsoft's new construction plans.

More than 1,800 companies have applied to use the "limited preview" of SharePoint Spaces, but Microsoft is currently just working with a "handful of those customers" to develop the SharePoint Spaces feature. The company is planning to share more about SharePoint Spaces at the Microsoft Ignite event coming this year in November.

New Home Sites
Microsoft announced a new landing page for employees called "SharePoint Home Sites" for sharing news and content based on the employee's role in the organization. Microsoft defines a Home Site as "a communication site that is designed and designated to serve as the top portal in an organization." Microsoft is targeting a rollout of the Home Site capability to Office 365 tenancies sometime in third quarter of this year.

A Home Site is built on top of a Communication Site, which is used for broader organizational communications in SharePoint sites. A Home Site differs from a Communication Site in that an organization's "official" news gets shown by default and the landing page is connected to a user's SharePoint home page. Home Site pages are integrated with Microsoft Search, and they support video playback via Yammer and the Microsoft Stream service. The page features the so-called "megamenu layout" for navigation by users, which shows the whole menu instead of using flyouts.

Microsoft also has a page type in SharePoint called a "Hub Site," which is the top navigational page in SharePoint intranets. It's possible for a Home Site to be a Hub Site, per a FAQ in this Home Site announcement.

Microsoft is planning on making Home Sites the new home page for the SharePoint Mobile App. It'll be accessible via a "dedicated home button" that will be coming "later this year," according to the Home Site announcement.

Microsoft also suggested that IT pros can make a Communication Site become a Home Site via "a simple PowerShell command." Typically, organizations would create one Home Site per Office 365 tenancy, Microsoft indicated. The PowerShell command adds official news, sets a tenantwide search scope, provides the connections to a SharePoint start page and enables the dedicated home button on the SharePoint Mobile App. Microsoft plans to add the PowerShell command to the SharePoint Admin Portal at some point, but didn't specify when.

Microsoft plans to ease the branding with Home Sites. It'll be possible for IT pros to add a link behind company logos that can steer users back to a Home Site.

Other SharePoint Enhancements
Microsoft also briefly noted that it's planning to add a new site starter design to make it easier for organizations to build SharePoint sites, according to an Intelligent Intranet announcement. No timeline was described, but a coming "organization site design" capability will have layout options such as "a vertical section" and "new webparts."

In a separate business solutions announcement, Microsoft described a coming "organization templates for the Office backstage" feature, which perhaps is the same thing. These organization templates, which lets organizations use preferred templates instead of Office defaults, is planned for "Targeted Release in summer 2019."

Organizations have some site design help with examples from SharePoint Look Books. "Now tenant administrators can take advantage of the SharePoint Provisioning Service to automatically provision SharePoint Look Book designs to any tenant in the world," Microsoft's announcement explained.

Microsoft also raised the connected site limits for Hub Sites from 100 sites to 2,000 sites.

A few business apps enhancements are coming this summer. Around that time, it'll be possible to use PowerApps to "build custom forms for document libraries" in SharePoint and Microsoft Teams. This summer there will be a private preview of Compliant Workspaces, a feature that lets organizations drill down into single files to manage their retention policies.

Organizations will be able to take bulk actions on approval workflows with a new "bulk approvals" feature. It'll be arriving as a "Targeted Release in mid-to-late June."

The SharePoint Connector for Microsoft Flow, a solution for automating tasks, will be getting "new actions to check-in/check-out documents, get version information, grant access, and create folders." Those enhancements are scheduled for "targeted release in August 2019."

Security, Management and Compliance
Microsoft announced that "multi-geo capabilities," used to ensure that data residency requirements are met in certain countries, has reached general availability for "SharePoint and Office 365 Groups," according to a SharePoint security announcement.

Previously, there were multi-geo licensing restrictions based on the number of users. However, the number has now been reduced to "500 users for multi-geo support effective June 1st 2019." The change was made to address the needs of midsize organizations, Microsoft indicated.

The SharePoint Migration Tool, used to move local sites to SharePoint Online, has a SharePoint Server 2013 site migration capability that's now generally available. Microsoft described it as a "comprehensive solution for migrating your SharePoint Server 2013 sites and their settings and content." There's also a SharePoint Server 2010 migration capability for moving content to SharePoint Online in Office 365, but it's still at the preview stage. The SharePoint Migration Tool now has support for 11 languages, Microsoft indicated.

The SharePoint Admin Center will be getting the ability to show classic and modern SharePoint management views, which will be "available soon," Microsoft promised. Microsoft also is adding the ability to carry out bulk actions in the SharePoint Admin Center, which will be "available soon." Possible bulk actions will include "updating the site's sharing configuration, performing hub site association, in addition to deleting sites."

The SharePoint Admin Center "soon" will let IT pros rename the URLs used for SharePoint sites, and end users won't have to refresh their links, Microsoft promised. In addition, the portal will let IT pros swap site links. It'll be done using "a new Windows PowerShell cmdlet (invoke-spositeswap) that allows you to replace the root site within a tenant" with an existing site.

Microsoft also announced various "sensitivity labels" enhancements that work between SharePoint Online and Microsoft 365 applications. Sensitivity labels add information protection capabilities to documents. Most of the coming improvements were at the "private preview" stage, so they are yet to come.

The Microsoft 365 Compliance portal is getting some new records management capabilities, according to this Microsoft announcement. Organizations can set document retention periods "across SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, Teams, Exchange and more." Users can see a review of "bulk disposition, retention extensions, or re-classifications." Microsoft also added "native connectors" that can be used to archive non-Microsoft 365 data, such as social media data from Facebook or Twitter.

Also coming to the Microsoft 365 Compliance portal is a machine learning "classifier" capability that will indicate when offensive language has been used. Other classifiers in the works include ones for "attorney client privilege, resume and source code," plus a "classification assistant" that organizations can train for their own compliance purposes.

Yammer Additions
Microsoft also announced some improvements to its Yammer chat solution. The Yammer Conversations Web Part for SharePoint is now generally available, which can be used to bring Yammer chat into "any SharePoint page, news article or SharePoint site," according to a Yammer announcement. It's viewed as being complementary to the existing Yammer Highlights Web Part.

Also at general availability is expanded data residency storage compliance for Yammer chats in EU countries, which is now available to "all new Office 365 enterprise customers associated with a tenant in the EU."

Yammer is getting rich text capabilities. Currently available features include "bold, italic, links, bullets and numbered lists."

In "late June," Yammer will have a new question-and-answer feature. It will let a group admin or the author of a question select the best answer. A bot can also be added to answer questions.

Microsoft is planning to add electronic discovery ("eDiscovery) for Yammer "later this year." For it to work, an organization will need to have its "Yammer groups connected to Office 365 Groups." Organizations with Microsoft 365 E3 subscriptions will be able to view a message, whereas E5 customers will be enabled to see full Yammer conversations.

Microsoft Stream Additions
A few improvements to the Microsoft Stream video hosting service were announced in Microsoft's mobile features post. The Stream Web Part in SharePoint Online now has an "all of Stream" option that lets users link to all Stream videos. Microsoft also added the ability of administrators to "disable people detection processing across all videos in your tenant."

The ability to "insert polls, surveys, or quizzes into videos with Microsoft Forms" will reach general availability "this week." In June, it'll be possible for the Microsoft Stream Mobile App for Android and iOS to "securely record, upload and share video."

OneDrive Announcements
Microsoft offered a mind-numbing list of OneDrive feature improvements in this OneDrive announcement. There's no real theme, except that file syncing and sharing enhancements are being added, and more file types are supported, such as support for AutoCAD DWG files and previews of 360-degree images. The feature additions announced are coming in either June or the fourth quarter, or they're listed as having been available in "Q1" of this year.

Out of the bunch, maybe the most interesting OneDrive addition is a sync support capability for Windows Virtual Desktop, Microsoft's new virtual desktop infrastructure service that's currently at the preview stage. The OneDrive Files On-Demand feature that displays the available cloud-stored files for end users is currently at the preview stage with the Windows Virtual Desktop service. The benefit of this approach is that it will "minimize the User Profile Disk (UPD) storage needs" for Windows Virtual Desktop users, Microsoft explained in its OneDrive announcement. Microsoft expects this capability to be available in June.

A Differential Sync feature will send only the changed bits of files to OneDrive cloud storage. This feature currently works with Office 2016 files, but it will work will all file types storable in SharePoint or OneDrive "later this year," Microsoft promised. Many more OneDrive enhancements are described in Microsoft's announcement.

Microsoft 365 and Search
Another announcement described the speed of Microsoft 365 solutions and recapped various Office 365 improvements, including the Fluid Framework described at Microsoft's Build developer event, which happened earlier this month. The Fluid Framework, expected to arrive later this year with an SDK, will enhance user collaborations on documents in near-real time across Office applications.

Microsoft also bragged that Microsoft 365 is "ten times faster than it was just two year ago" and just about any file can be opened in seconds using Office online apps. Microsoft Search is enhanced with access to the Microsoft Graph and artificial intelligence.

Microsoft Search was said to have reached general availability earlier this month, as announced at Microsoft's Build event. Microsoft has a new admin center for IT pros to configure search settings across apps and services. Developers will be getting enhancements that will "provide complete recall results" from queries, as well as APIs that work with Exchange, OneDrive and other apps, according to the Microsoft Search announcement. There are plans to connect Microsoft Search with Teams and Yammer apps, too. Some classic search capabilities will get supported in Microsoft Search via "extensibility models."

Also touted was Microsoft Search in Bing for organizations. It's currently available and enables searches across an organization's content, people, files and locations, along with enabling public Web searches. Queries issued by end users are protected by Microsoft Search in Bing as "searches across your organization are anonymized to your employer and advertisers, and are separated from public search traffic," Microsoft's announcement explained.

There's a Microsoft Search in Office, a Microsoft Search in SharePoint, a Microsoft Search in OneDrive (all available), as well a Microsoft Search in Windows ("available soon").

Developer Perks
The current state-of-the-art for SharePoint Online developers was described in this announcement. There was a bit of a recap of the tooling available with SharePoint Framework 1.8, which reached general availability back in March. Microsoft has since released SharePoint Framework 1.8.2, which adds Node.js 10 support. A coming SharePoint Framework 1.9 will add support for building sharable code modules using library components.

Microsoft is adding "a new Microsoft Graph Toolkit for the web" that will bring log-in and information display controls. It'll also bring File Picker controls for developers.

Microsoft is working on adding developer "support for Microsoft Teams Tabs in mobile experiences." It'll add things like Microsoft Graph support and Azure Active Directory support.

About the Author

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

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