SharePoint Conference 2014 Wrap-Up – Takeaways, Highlights, & Lowlights

I was fortunate enough to attend SharePoint Conference 2014 (SPC14) in Las Vegas last week. I had a little time to reflect so I put a blog post together to wrap-up the conference from my perspective. First let me give some disclaimers.

  1. I wasn’t able to attend SharePoint Conference 2012 so I don’t have that reference point. I did attend SharePoint Conference 2011 in Anaheim though.
  2. SPC 2014 wasn’t before a major release so there wasn’t a ton of new and shiny things on display.
  3. I’ve worked on a handful of SharePoint 2013 projects so my perspective of “cool” may differ from some.
  4. I mostly attended developer sessions so I didn’t see everything. If I missed something, please, please, please leave a comment below or link to your blog post. I’m really hoping that we can build a web of reflections for those who weren’t able to attend.
  5. This is a very long post. I’m sorry.

With that being said, here are the takeaways, highlights, and lowlights I left Las Vegas with.

Takeaways

Office365 is here to stay - Office365 is not a fad. In fact, it’s Microsoft’s fastest growing product ever! I must admit that I was one of the naysayers. Not because it wasn’t a decent offering but because the on-premise feature set was much more robust. That gap has closed and I would even argue that the pendulum has swung the other way.

Office365 first. On-premise last - Microsoft is pushing new or updated functionality to Office365 almost weekly including enhanced mobile viewing, Yammer integration across the Office365, PowerBI, and the list goes on. Since they host the farm, they can update it whenever they want. For obvious reasons, they don’t release service packs for on-premise farms weekly. In fact some of the Office365 features may never be available for on-premise farms. At best, they will come in future service packs which are months away. We now (myself included) have to conclude that Office365 is the hot blonde and SharePoint Server 2013 is the red-headed stepchild. I pity the fool that doesn’t consider Office365 or at least a hybrid approach before committing to on-premise SharePoint 2013.

The Sandbox is officially dying - Just like Office365, SharePoint Apps are here for the long haul. Again, I have been bearish on SharePoint Apps. I used to complain that Sandbox solutions were too limiting. You could imagine that I found it difficult to embrace an alternative that was even more restricting! I’m sure several developers felt the same as me. How can we love apps but not deploy a branding with apps? Microsoft addressed those concerns at SPC14. They unveiled more RESTful API’s, one of which can provision sites. They also released a solution pack with samples of how apps can apply branding to the host web and they promised that more API endpoints were slated for future release. That was great news! It would be pretty easy for Microsoft the expose endpoints to handle everything (or almost everything) we could do in the Sandbox. With that in mind, I foresee a funeral procession for Sandbox solutions at SharePoint Conference 2015.

Opensoft - A long time knock on Microsoft has been their absence in the open source community. There’s never been a push for the community to contribute to anything Microsoft has delivered. Without Reflector, we’d never know what was happening under the hood. Microsoft made it loud and clear throughout SPC14 that they are ready to divorce their old way of thinking.

I was in shock and awe of the level of transparency and openness. They revealed roadmaps with rough release estimates. They unveiled a development SDK for Android. Several of the demos were run on the iPad. They promoted Google’s AngularJS. They asked us to submit feedback and ideas on their UserVoice site. They boldly asked the community to contribute to their open source projects on GitHub (note I said GitHub; NOT CodePlex). They encouraged us to take our Q&A to StackOverflow (that’s right, StackOverflow; NOT MSDN forums). They asked us to give them ideas for an InfoPath replacement (more on that later). They even spun off a subsidiary that is solely dedicated to bridging the gap between Microsoft and non-Microsoft technologies.

Jared Spataro, General Manager of Product Marketing, said, “We don’t think holding secrets is the way to win anymore. We used to. Now it is execution.” Let that marinate. It was very clear that Microsoft is listening. This, more than anything, has me very excited about the future of SharePoint, Office development and Microsoft.

Mobility - In SharePoint 2010, Microsoft at least acknowledged that SharePoint needed mobile features so they stuffed some in. I would say that attempt at mobile support was poor. Then, I was excited to see the mobile story for SharePoint 2013 a couple years ago only to be disappointed. Although the mobile story was better, it was still lackluster in my opinion. Fast-forward 2 years, SharePoint Conference 2014 was flooded with mobility sessions: responsive-design, mobilizing the workforce with Web Application Proxy, OneDrive for Business and Mobility. One of the hottest buzz phrases in the industry is “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD). I think Microsoft made It clear that they’re starting to take a mobile first approach. They’re no longer happy with Internet Explorer only features. The evidence is already present in Office365 (Office365 first, on-premise last).

When the videos become available I strongly encourage you to watch the “OneDrive for Business and Mobility” session. Surprisingly, it was one of my favorite sessions and the presenters did a great job. If SharePoint vNext has those features it’ll be a big win. Another thing I noticed: I didn’t here “device channels” one single time! Deprecation maybe? I hope so.

“Oslo” Office Graph - This app is kind of interesting. In a nutshell, it monitors the stuff you work on, the people you work with, and the stuff they work on. Later it analyzes the connections and makes suggestions about things that my be relevant to you. Cool, right? I still can’t get my head around how it works. Given that the FAST team has something to do with it, I’m guessing that Search is the underlying engine that tracks your click-throughs and aggregates suggestions. I think this has promise and it’s already available on Office365.

MVC! MVC! - When the certification path of SharePoint 2013 was released I was a bit surprised that Developing ASP.NET MVC 4 Web Applications was a prerequisite to the SharePoint developer certifications. Someone in Redmond made the decision that SharePoint DEVs should know MVC. That decision was backed-up by several of the SharePoint sessions. The major takeaway I got was that MVC is not just about ASP.NET MVC 4 or 5. It’s about the Model-View-Controller pattern. There were sessions that covered developing Apps in Asp.NET MVC. There were also sessions on Apps with AngularJS, a JavaScript library that leverages the MVC pattern. I’ve had the privilege of working on ASP.NET MVC 4 in the recent past and I’m hoping and praying SharePoint vNext is written in MVC. Developers should spruce up on the MVC pattern, ASP.NET MVC, and AngularJS quickly.

Highlights

Real World Apps - It was great to see real world apps demoed at SPC14. Those demos flipped on a few light bulbs for me. The Live Polling app by Poll Everywhere was flat out awesome. In the middle of the Developer Keynote we were asked which features we thought were best. Instead of raising hands or using an online survey, we just pulled out our phones and sent a text with a particular code to a number to cast our vote. To make things better, the results were calculated and displayed real time!

I left more excited about the contextual Apps for Office than SharePoint Apps. Contextual Apps are apps that are embedded in Office Products, like Outlook. In the “Advanced Development Pattern for SharePoint Apps” session the presenters demoed a Help Desk app. The contextual app was embedded in Outlook and read the subject line of an email to pull a corresponding helpdesk ticket into the app. So, not only is the app displayed within the “context” of your Office application, it is also “context” aware of what you’re looking at. Very nice.

SAP’s Gateway Productivity Accelerator for Microsoft (PAM) - I must admit, I am a little nervous about tagging this as a highlight. The Microsoft + SAP partnership has made some promises in the past that fell way short of expectations. After 20 years I think the partnership may be on to something with Gateway PAM. Gateway PAM is expected to expose several OData endpoints that developers can consume to pull SAP data. They demoed an Excel feature that consumed SAP data which I think also leverages Gateway PAM. This product is also supposed to “handle” authentication. That’s kind of nebulous but my hope is that Gateway PAM can take a SAML token and convert to an SAP account. We’ll see. If hope is not deferred, this will be a major focus for SharePoint apps.

The Venetian and Sands Expo - I thought that 10k+ people in one area was a lot to deal with. At SPC14 it was very clear to me that Sands Expo was more than equipped to handle our crowd. They are probably more accustomed to larger conferences. The staff and Microsoft workers were great and very helpful. The accommodations and venue were awesome. I heard a few complaints about the food and radical room temperature changes but other than that, I was impressed.

Lowlights

Future of SharePoint forms? We don’t know - SPC14′s most anticipated session was “Update on InfoPath and SharePoint Forms”. Shortly before the conference Microsoft announced that they would not release a future version of InfoPath. Afterwards, panic ensued within some circles. Meanwhile, SharePoint Developers all loved it and they shouted out with glee, “Yipee!” Regardless of the reaction, most people wanted to know what the Office team had up their sleeves and the perfect stage to unveil it was the SharePoint Conference.

The session was packed! It was held in the largest hall available and there were literally no seats available. It was standing room only and even the standing room was a little tight. With the crowd on the edge of their seats wondering what SharePoint forms vNext would be, Microsoft delivered their answer. In short: we don’t know yet. Womp, womp.

I must say that I respect the Office team coming out and admitting that they were not sure what would be next. That speaks to their openness I mentioned earlier. With that being said, they could have told us they didn’t know the future of forms in a blog post. They could have told us in the keynote. They could have told us on Yammer! I was completely deflated and upset when I walked out 30 minutes into the session. Deflated because I expected Microsoft to make a big announcement. Upset because I could have sat through a different session that would have been much more beneficial.

To their credit, they did show some alternatives with Excel surveys and Access forms. Excel Surveys allow users to make forms for adding rows to Excel, but not SharePoint lists, which makes the surveys irrelevant in my eyes. Access forms are more promising but still in the early stages. The future of forms session was not worthy of a 75 minute slot and a complete waste of time in my opinion.

MySPC – To be blunt, the MySPC desktop site stunk. It was incredibly frustrating and slow. The mobile site was much better but it had its own set of issues. The Auth cookies expired every 15-20 minutes forcing me to log in over, and over, and over. Whenever I added a session to my calendar I would be taken away from the list of sessions instead of using a JavaScript ajax call to post the addition. Going back to the list of sessions was a nightmare. Several people must have expressed their frustrations so much that Microsoft or Fpweb started adding features as the week went on. I just wish it had been done BEFORE the conference.

Wifi - It seems to be a constant that the wifi connection will be slow and spotty during a mass geek conference. In most cases, I can understand. However, when several demos include Office365 and the conference goes paper-less, that wifi signal better be strong and it better be fast. The SPC14 wifi was neither. I’m not into networking so I don’t know the answer. But I’m sure one of the world’s greatest technology companies should be able to figure it out.

Wrapping Up the Wrap-Up

SharePoint Conference 2014 was a good event. My socks weren’t blown off but I didn’t expect they would be. I did walk away with a few good nuggets and an optimistic view of Microsoft’s strategy and vision. There were several other things I wanted to blog about like the parties, open bars, drunken stupors, Avitinis, Danica Patrick, Ferraris, and king-sized steaks but it’s better if some of those things stay in Vegas! :)

Thanks for reading…now comment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>