Today at the Worldwide Partner Conference, Seth Patton, Senior Director of Product Management for Microsoft SharePoint and OneDrive, announced that the preview of SharePoint 2016 will be released in August. This comes as a big surprise, especially considering that only a few months ago, Microsoft announced that the preview—originally slated for this summer—would be delayed until the fourth quarter of the calendar year.
What does this mean for the product, and for Microsoft's customers?
Back to the old Microsoft
First, it is a hopeful sign that Microsoft is working to "under-promise, over-deliver, surprise and delight"—an approach that characterized much of what the company did in years past.
The core is ready to test
Second, it means that Microsoft believes that the core of the product is ready for the market to test. The core of the product was "code complete" at Microsoft Ignite, in fact. Technology Adopter Program (TAP) participants have been deploying early-release code for several months. Now, all customers will have the chance to deploy the preview into a lab environment to validate, to experience the new "goodness" in the product, and to begin planning for migration.
Microsoft has more time than ever to listen to customer feedback
Third, it means that Microsoft is expanding its efforts to connect with and listen to customer feedback. Microsoft will now have an extended period of time—longer than any other in SharePoint's history—to get feedback from a large pool of customers. This will improve the final product's quality and will likely influence the trajectory of feature enhancements to the product.
You can think about this preview as more akin to what the Windows team did with Windows 10--a long, very public preview during which changes were made to the product directly from customer feedback, and during which bugs were squashed. The result (as I'm writing this on a Windows 10 system running Office 2016) is an incredibly high bar of quality on release day.
What does the August preview not mean?
General availability is not necessarily going to be any sooner
Implied in what I've written above is my bet that this does not suggest a significantly accelerated release of SharePoint 2016, which continues to be pegged for Q2 of 2016.
What you preview is not the feature-complete product
This also does not mean that the preview we're getting in August will be exactly what is released with the final product.
The timeframe Microsoft is giving itself means that customers can begin exploring features of the core product—particularly those features that enable hybrid scenarios and the new IT-pro focused features that were "inspired" by Microsoft's learning in the cloud.
In the meantime, Microsoft can work on new features that may or may not be released between now and "general availability" of SharePoint 2016.
Bill Baer, Senior Technical Product Manager, emphasized this point. "Preview is an opportunity for us to solicit feedback and validate that many of the core infrastructure investments are ready as we work in parallel to build in the experiences."
This means that there will be more "goodness" baked into the product between the release of the preview and the general availability of the product--particularly user-facing, business-value-driving experiences. Given Microsoft's general culture of agile, granular feature releases in Office 365, in Windows, and in Office clients, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a similar approach to adding features to SharePoint Server on-prem during the preview.
The "new" preview: Win. Win.
In the end, this is about preview and ensuring that the benefits of a preview accrue to Microsoft's customers, with more time to evaluate and plan, and to Microsoft itself, with more time to act on customer feedback.
I celebrate Microsoft's announcement today. It's a win for customers, and it's a win for Microsoft!
It's time to focus on SharePoint 2016
Be sure to join me in the next Tech Talk with Bill Baer, Friday July 24th! Bill will share all the news and give us more insight into what's been going on behind the scenes in the SharePoint team to enable this early release of SharePoint 2016 Preview!
If you haven't yet looked into the new SharePoint 2016 features that Microsoft has announced, you can read a great summary, SharePoint 2016 Release Pushed: Be Patient! by Office MVP Benjamin Niaulin on the Sharegate blog. Ben wrote the blog before Ignite, but the summary is worth your time if you want to start exploring the highlights of what's planned for SharePoint Server 2016.
Now that we're heading into preview territory, we'll also be revving up our engines here at IT Unity, so you can expect to see a lot more content from experts, MVPs, and Microsoft team members designed to help you make the most of the preview.
The first event designed for SharePoint 2016
And if you haven't heard, Unity Connect Amsterdam (formerly SharePoint Connections) has a star-studded lineup of sessions, conversations, and workshops designed to help you succeed with current and upcoming versions of SharePoint and Office 365! We've got the "inside track" with the likes of Spencer Harbar, Scot Hillier, Neil Hodgkinson, Steve Smith, Vesa Juvonen, Mirjam van Olst, Jasper Oosterveld, Ben Niaulin and more. Learn more about Unity Connect Amsterdam, 12-14 October.