On August 24, 2015, Microsoft announced the availability of SharePoint 2016 IT Preview. In this article, I’ll look at the evolution of SharePoint and how we arrived at this point. I’ll also help you understand exactly what the term “IT Preview” means, look at what’s new (and deprecated) in SharePoint 2016, and give you some thoughts about the future.
The SharePoint journey
Three years ago, most of us in the SharePoint community were happily working with on-premises installations and writing lots of server-side code. Although SharePoint gave us a fair number of headaches – with the User Profile Service (UPS) at the top of my list – we had figured out most of the quirks and life was good. Then came that SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas where Microsoft changed all the rules and seemed to say that on-premises SharePoint was dead.
Throughout the push to the cloud, Microsoft has always promised another on-premises release of SharePoint. So, the announcement of the SharePoint 2016 IT Preview can be seen as simply the fulfillment of that promise. In my opinion, however, the release is much more significant. The turmoil in the SharePoint community affected the thinking within Microsoft, and I believe that SharePoint 2016 represents a new commitment to the idea that many customers will have an on-premises installation for the foreseeable future.
In February of 2015, Julia White wrote about the Evolution of SharePoint and explained the Microsoft vision for cloud and on-premises installations. This article acknowledged the link between on-premises and cloud installations paving the way for a renewed emphasis on hybrid architectures. Seth Patton reinforced this message in his SharePoint 2016 Update article as he highlighted the integration of cloud services with on-premises environments. The message in Bill Baer’s SharePoint 2016 IT Preview announcement is consistent with these other articles.
All of this means that the SharePoint community should feel good about the release of the SharePoint 2016 IT Preview because Microsoft has solidified its vision for SharePoint and it includes on-premises customers.
Understanding “IT Preview”
The SharePoint 2016 IT Preview is really about installations and migrations. The preview emphasizes infrastructure investments as opposed to new user features or development approaches. Therefore, it will be of most interest to organizations that have a significant on-premises investment, but are moving in a hybrid direction. Future previews will add capabilities, but this (August 24) preview is not intended for roll-out to end users even though Bill’s announcement calls out some end-user-focused capabilities such as sharing, mobile and touch.
The SharePoint 2016 IT Preview allows organizations to focus on investments in infrastructure and deployment features, and Microsoft is asking customers who use this August 24 SharePoint 2016 IT Preview to install the preview in a test environment and perform test migrations. The preview is not meant for production environments, and will not be upgradeable to the final release of SharePoint 2016. With final release of SharePoint Server 2016 still slated for spring 2016, this provides a longer-than-normal feedback period for customers to evaluate and validate the release.
Along with new infrastructure capabilities, Microsoft also released a list of deprecated and removed features. SharePoint Foundation will no longer be available as a separate and free release. SharePoint 2016 will not support Standalone mode. The Forefront Identity Manager (FIM) is gone (and I am thrilled because I often struggled with that whole process). Excel Services and its associated business intelligence capabilities are no longer available in SharePoint Server. Tags (the social feature) and notes are no longer available, and STSADM has been deprecated.
“IT Preview” also means that there is really nothing new for developers. Full-trust code is still supported and SharePoint Add-ins are still the way to get your code off the server. For developers, I would use this time to learn about the Office 365 Unified APIs because that’s really our future.
The SharePoint 2016 IT Preview represents the fulfillment of a promise Microsoft made to on-premises customers as well as a signpost on the road to the cloud. The SharePoint community should feel good that Microsoft has a solid plan for on-premises customers and strong vision for hybrid environments. If your organization has an investment in SharePoint on-premises, consider taking the opportunity to install the preview in a test environment and begin the planning for your future infrastructure.