Here are some reasons to check out Modern SharePoint:
- Sites are compelling: This is the most obvious advantage; it’s no longer a goal to make it “not look like SharePoint”, and in general, users will be happier with the results.
- Mobile friendly: It’s pretty standard these days that web sites should work well on a mobile phone or tablet. Trying to do that in classic SharePoint was an exercise in frustration and sideways scrolling.
- Faster, everywhere: In Classic SharePoint, most of the page is created on the server, and the whole layout needs to be sent over the network for every page. That’s the way the web worked in 2002. This creates a bottleneck in the servers, and leads to large network payloads. If the server is half way around the world, the speed of light slows things down even more.
(SharePoint Friends, please do not mention the “minimal download strategy” at this point! Beer or preferably whiskey is required for that discussion!)
In modern SharePoint, most of the page is created in the web browser. Big chunks of SharePoint (including the “SharePoint Framework”) are stored outside of SharePoint servers, close to users around the world (on CDNs or Content Delivery Networks). They are also easily cached right on your computer, so they run nearly as fast as a locally installed program. Pretty much only the content needs to be retrieved from the SharePoint servers.
- Backed by Groups: Classic SharePoint sites were self-contained, which meant using SharePoint lists and libraries for everything. That might seem clever, but let me tell you, a calendar or discussion hosted in a SharePoint list is not a good thing.
If I had a dollar for every time I was asked, “how come my SharePoint calendar isn’t the same as my Exchange calendar,” I’d have a nice pile of cash. Well now they’re the same! Modern SharePoint sites are backed by an Office 365 Group, which means they get a real Exchange calendar and shared mailbox, a real OneNote notebook, a Planner plan, and so on, in addition to lists and libraries. That greatly improves matters, and also lets you choose to work with all your calendars in Outlook, or all your notes in OneNote, across all sites and your own personal use.
- Flexible organisation: Classic SharePoint is based on lots of small hierarchies called site collections. Each site collection has a top-level site, and can also have child sites, grandchildren, etc. These hierarchies are very inflexible, and notoriously difficult when organisations change.
For example, suppose a product moves from Division A to Division B in a company, and the product site is in the Division A site collection. Your SharePoint person is about to have a bad day. There is no easy way to make the change and he or she will end up re-creating everything in a new site over in the Division B site collection. Unless they have another reorg first.Modern sites use a concept called “hubs” where sites are more loosely connected. The product site can just be switched from the Division A to the Division B hub, and it will get the navigation, search, and look of a Division B site. Its URL won’t even change, so favorites and links won’t break.
A consequence of this is that the new world of SharePoint is flat. SharePoint installations that have a flat structure with lots of single-site collections will have a lot easier time modernising.
- List and Library improvements: There have been many list improvements, including easier filtering, conditional formatting, and attention views, which once and for all provide a sensible way to show items that are missing required information. Modern lists also (finally!) address the dreaded “5,000 item view limit” that has frustrated SharePoint users for years. It does this by automatically creating indexes as they’re needed, based on user interaction. It’s not perfect, but for most situations it removes this perennial pain point.
In addition, the forms and workflow applied to lists and libraries is being modernised. PowerApps is slowly getting closer to parity with the legacy InfoPath forms designer, and Flow (and its big sibling Azure Logic Apps) are replacing SharePoint’s built in workflow options. The biggest advantage of these new tools is that they’re not locked into SharePoint; they can work with all sorts of cloud services, both within Office 365 and beyond.
If you have an investment in InfoPath and SharePoint workflow, don’t worry! InfoPath and the old workflow engines aren’t going away any time soon. However you’ll need to live with their limitations, as they’re pretty much on life support at this point.
- Expose new features: Microsoft has introduced a number of cool new features that only work on Modern sites. These include:
- Site classification and labels, so users can see when they’re on a site that contains sensitive information, and easily label the contents for compliance reasons
- News feeds which automatically distribute links to pages (articles) across the sites in a hub and to the SharePoint mobile app and home page
- In general, Microsoft’s web parts either work in classic or modern pages but not both. The only web parts that work both places are those written by 3rd parties (like you!) for the new SharePoint Framework, which allows developers to target both modern and classic pages with a single code base.
- Easier to configure: Some classic web parts were easy enough to deal with, but others required arcane knowledge of XSL style sheets, display templates, and other outmoded web technology. The new web parts are much easier and more intuitive to set up, and don’t require any special technical know-how.
The modern team site page was a lot easier to set up than the classic one, mainly due to quirks in the old UI that often refuses to cooperate.
For example, suppose Joe E. is an administrator of a SharePoint site. (Nobody knows, but the E is for “Evil!”). Joe writes some script and puts it on the home page of his site. Then he gets the CEO to visit the page. When she does, Joe’s script now has all of her permissions, and can do anything the CEO could have done on the SharePoint farm (or, more specifically, in the web application). Maybe his script approves a workflow, or gathers confidential information using SharePoint search. Bad. News.
Modern sites are more locked down than that. There are limits to how much you can lock down the script on any web site, but by default you can’t just drop a script on the page. IT can easily set it up so Joe and his Evil siblings can’t add arbitrary script to the pages.
- Future Investment: Microsoft has been very clear that they’re not turning off classic sites any time soon, but let’s face it, classic sites are just on life support at this point. Any work you put into a classic site is work you may want to redo later on. If you’re building a new web part, configuring the way a list is shown, or just setting up a web part page, why not do it the modern way so you can take advantage of Microsoft’s investments in the future?
- Teams: So much for the top 10, I thought of another one! There’s been a ton of enthusiasm recently over Microsoft Teams, a new collaboration tool that’s centered on persistent chat. Teams brings together nearly all of Office 365 under a single “pane of glass.”This brings up more questions, like, “Should we use Teams or a SharePoint Team Site”, or “Won’t Microsoft Teams put SharePoint out of business?”