On Monday August 24, 2015, Microsoft released the first preview of SharePoint Server 2016 to the public. Branded the SharePoint 2016 IT Preview and now available for download at http://aka.ms/sppreview, the excitement around this release has been palpable following some initial delays to the production and release schedule. With many insiders curious whether this is the final on-premises version of the collaboration suite, expectations are high that the enhancements in the release will better allow for a harmonized workforce, better incorporating Yammer and Office products, including Skype and OneDrive for Business. SharePoint Server 2016 IT Preview includes a set of scenarios that Microsoft wanted to validate; meaning some familiar features have been untouched in the new version, such as the content and metadata experiences, which will be noticeably similar to that of SharePoint 2013.
In a special episode of Tech Talk with Bill Baer, Dan Holme had an opportunity to speak with Bill about the release. Bill also directly responded to comments and questions from the community.
Bill Baer, Technical Product Manager and Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint in the SharePoint product group, talks with Dan Holme, CEO of IT Unity, about the SharePoint Server 2016 IT Preview
Similar to the process that Microsoft used for SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2013 upgrades, Bill explained that Microsoft “worked hard to simplify the upgrade process, whether that’s the database attach method or a differed site collection upgrade.” For those looking to establish an upgrade routing, database attach remains the primary mechanism moving forward to get to SharePoint 2016. (Older sites will need to be moved to SharePoint 2013 before they can move to SharePoint 2016 – Microsoft does not support an upgrade path to jump from old versions of SharePoint to the new SharePoint Server 2016.) Bill also described that SharePoint 2016 is fully backward compatible for site collections, though not entirely recommended by Microsoft.
Prioritizing the user-interface experience in order to build much needed long-term adoption and simplified training, the IT Preview will look and behave similarly to SharePoint Online and SharePoint 2013 experiences, with no substantial differences for users from what they’ve seen in the past. Bill specifically mentioned this as an identified mitigation strategy for users who have experienced interface challenges in the past. “User familiarity was critical when identifying changes and upgrade path,” said Baer.
From a business perspective, Bill and Dan discussed several features that are included in the IT Preview release: mobile, online, the App Launcher and compliance & e-discovery.
- Mobile and touch experiences bring OneDrive for Business into the SharePoint 2016 product. Built around Microsoft’s tenants for what they call modern collaboration, Bill described this as addressing a “mobile for the distributed workforce need, taking what is already available and bringing it back to SharePoint 2016.” Microsoft also focused on avoiding deprecating SharePoint 2013 services and instead, moving them into the 2016 IT Preview.
- A converged codebase was a key priority for SharePoint 2016, meaning specific online capabilities that were available in SharePoint Online were identified and moved into the IT Preview. This was the first time SharePoint has been released with this converged codebase, something the Microsoft team is very proud of. Bill expressed the team’s excitement to see the reaction of the community to this change from previous SharePoint versions.
- App Launcher is now available in the IT preview as well, showing the importance of the one to many relationships between sites. Users can discover applications and launch them across the organization, whether you’re in a cloud environment or on-premises.
- From a compliance and e-discovery perspective, Bill described Microsoft’s firm belief in applying global policies to different information across the organization. This new feature allows for the creation of documents and policies based on rules as required. SharePoint 2016 includes two different policy centers: one for compliance and the other for in-place holds and document deletion, which can be deployed across the environment.
- User profile service now provisions itself easily, as Microsoft has invested in decoupling products like Forefront Identity Manager and external synchronization. The result is that the default way to enable profile synch is through AD import. Moving forward, Microsoft Identity Manager will handle all bi-directional synchronization needs.
Also included in the preview is the Cloud Search Service Application (CSSA), Microsoft’s move towards unifying search across on-premises and cloud environments. CSSA specifically allows for one unified index to be deployed across Office 365 and SharePoint on-premises, providing a single experience that also includes cloud considerations, such as Office Graph and Delve. Watch for Microsoft to release the service for configuration on September 7, 2015. Also, look for an upcoming webinar featuring SharePoint MVPs Jason Himmelstein and Todd Klindt, coming to IT Unity, which will address CSSA.
For those using third-party workflow products such as Nintex and K2, Bill mentioned that Microsoft expects a seamless and ready-to-go deployment from a workflow and workflow foundation perspective. Few changes have been made in this regard, and all third-party applications should perform as expected.
Without question, the SharePoint 2016 IT Preview introduces new capabilities, while in parallel identifying new opportunities and creating a great end-user and developer experience. For more details on the release, please visit the Office Blogs post announcing the SharePoint 2016 IT Preview.