28 April 2016

New SharePoint Online Library Interface - Pros and Cons

SharePoint iconThis month Microsoft has launched the new user interface of SharePoint Online document libraries to some Office 365 subscribers. I have studied the interface and found great enhancements – but also problems for my colleagues and me to solve.

Only to First Release users
By default SharePoint Online subscribers do not get the latest updates until these are released to all Office 365 customers, but there is an option to let admins or the whole organization have the updates earlier. I recommend administrators to take advantage of the First Release possibility, to have a chance to prepare for upcoming changes.

When it comes to the new library interface this is extra important, because much will be different when the new interface is released to all. Currently First Release users are offered to test the new interface, and it is easy to return to the classic appearance. Because of the extensive changes I think Microsoft will keep that possibility for a rather long time, but I doubt that it will last forever.
SharePoint Online Check new library

Quick Action Pane instead of Ribbon
The new library interface has no ribbon, and that was of course what first struck me when I had pressed the "Check it out" button. A panic-stricken thought went through my head: has Microsoft removed all the useful ribbon features?

SharePoint Online A´new Alert iconThe answer is of course no, which I soon discovered. Most of the features are still there but reached in another and often better way. The Alert icon has for example been moved to the new quick action pane, where it is more easily accessible to users. It has also been easier to delete multiple files and to move and copy files within the library.
SharePoint Online new library quick actions pane

Thumbnails for Pin and Pictures
The new library interface gives us a new feature: pin files and folders. Pinned items are easy to find, as they are displayed as thumbnails above the other items. Thumbnails are also used in the new alternate view, which is especially handy for images.
SharePoint Online library grid view

Good for beginners, not as good for power users
In general I find the new library interface an enhancement for most users. Microsoft has focused on the core tasks and made them easier to perform, and they have also added some features that I think will be appealing to ordinary users.

But I am afraid many power users will feel disappointed. Some options are not there anymore or are at least more difficult to achieve, and that is a serious drawback. There is, for example, no no-code way to edit the page or customize the Quick Launch, and you cannot open the library in Outlook, Excel or Windows Explorer.

I hope Microsoft reconsiders and give us a possibility to use these more advanced features in the SharePoint libraries again. Why not add the controls in the Library Settings? There they will not disturb ordinary users.

Courses and solutions
When you use the new library interface, some of what I have shown in my SharePoint Online from Scratch videos are done in other ways, and the same goes for a lot of teaching material out there. This is a problem but absolutely no reason for Microsoft to stop development. When you create IT tutorials, like I do, you are fully aware that they will not be valid forever.

Templates Manager logotypeI have the same attitude towards the products: they need to be updated, and we are happy to do that and to give subscribers free upgrades. In this case we need to update Templates Manager to work with the new library interface.

Next week Microsoft has promised to give more info about their plans for SharePoint in general and the libraries in particular, so I will probably have reason to come back to this subject. Until then, please have a look at the demo below and at the Tips article where I have listed the most important news in the SharePoint document libraries.

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

21 April 2016

SharePoint Online From Scratch Paperback Released On Amazon

SharePoint Online from Scratch coverIn March I wrote about the SharePoint Online from Scratch e-book, and today I am happy to announce that the paperback is out too.

SharePoint in the cloud
SharePoint Online is the SharePoint version that comes with Office 365. It has become very popular, as it is less difficult to administer compared to the on-premise versions. Still, you cannot claim that it is easy. If you are new to SharePoint, you will need some kind of assistance to get started.

Multimedia tutorials
Microsoft has a lot of SharePoint instructions online, but they have no real course or manual with a progression. You have to know what you are searching for to use their tutorials, and how can you search for something when you don't even know that it exists?

Before you can start browsing among Microsoft's articles you need to know the basics of SharePoint, and you can learn that in a course or by a book. Video demonstrations are great, but to be optimal they need to be studied in a context. SharePoint Online from Scratch gives links to Tips articles with demos, and I believe this combination of textbook and video is a good way to explain things.

I have already heard from one teacher who intends to use SharePoint Online from Scratch together with the Tips articles in a training-course, and I am sure he will have followers. Book + demos + teacher explanations sounds like a perfect combination to me.

Practical use
SharePoint Online from Scratch focuses on no-code, hands-on instructions and explanations on how to practically make use of a SharePoint tenant for collaboration within an organization. The book also gives examples on how to use SharePoint for management of common business processes.

Even if I have this practical approach, I also want SharePoint Online from Scratch to give a real understanding of why things are done the way they are. If you have that understanding, it will be easy to figure out how new SharePoint versions work.

E-book or paperback?
If you are interested in SharePoint Online from Scratch, I recommend you to read the blog post about the e-book for more information. The actual content of the two editions is the same, but if you buy the digital copy, you will have all images in color and clickable links to the Tips articles.

The paperback of SharePoint Online from Scratch has 356 pages, so I decided to not use color, to be able to sell it at a reasonable price. In a hard copy you can give a better layout than in an e-book that has to fit many formats, so in my opinion the paperback still looks better!

The best option is of course to buy both editions! If you buy the hard copy from first, you will be offered to buy the digital copy at a very low cost via the Amazon Kindle Matchbook offer.

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

05 April 2016

SharePoint Document Tagger for Azure Text Analytics

Document Tagger logotype Relevant metadata is crucial for an expanding SharePoint farm or tenant. With good metadata, users can find the documents they need even if there are thousands of files in SharePoint libraries. The problem is to get users to tag documents correctly, and the team has tried to solved that issue. With the Microsoft Azure web services for text analysis we now see great opportunities for a tagging tool to really work well.

The importance of metadata
Metadata is often called "data about data". Everything that describes the contents and context of files is included in SharePoint metadata, like file names, location and of course keywords. When you have good metadata, the SharePoint search works well, and you can filter and create views that show files from different aspects. To manually tag documents with metadata is however boring and time consuming, so people often avoid doing it.

Templates Manager icon Last week I described how the product Templates Manager for SharePoint makes it easier to add metadata to files created from Office templates. Another way to spur users to add metadata is  to use a text analysis service and tag files that are uploaded to document libraries or already exist there with suggested keywords.

A couple of years ago the team developed a beta version of a SharePoint solution for automatic tagging with the help of an analysis service. We never released the final product on the market, but now I think it is time to update and finish Document Tagger.
Microsoft Azure
Azure text analysis tool
A product that helps SharePoint users to analyze and tag documents with metadata stands and falls with the text analysis tool. If the text analysis is not sufficient, you will have irrelevant metadata, which will lead to frustration and bad search results. Now we have found something that meet our standards.

Microsoft is continually improving their Azure services, and we have been keeping an eye on the Text Analytics API for some time. It is beginning to reach general availability, and we would love to build something on top of it. The starting point would be our beta version of Document Tagger.

Keep the control
Document Tagger is a SharePoint Sandboxed Solution that allows users to tag existing documents much more easily than doing it manually. However, even if the tagging is automatic we don't force users to blindly accept all the metadata that the text analysis suggests. When a document or presentation has been analyzed by the service, the metadata suggestions must be approved before they are added to the file, and users can make any changes needed.

This is how the new Document Tagger will work on existing library files:
  1. Select one or several files and press the Document Tagger button. A dialog is displayed.
  2. Document Tagger sends the documents in a secure way to the analysis service.
  3. The service suggests keywords that are shown in the Document Tagger dialog. Icons show what category the keywords belong to.
  4. Deselect the keywords you don't want to use.
  5. Add any additional metadata.
  6. Click on the Apply button, and the keywords will be added to the document.
Document Tagger can also tag documents in a similar way directly when they are uploaded. Other Document Tagger features help you use the tags to find the files you need in a quicker way than SharePoint in itself can manage. You can for example find related documents by clicking on a tag and group keywords and metadata by category for a better overview.

See the beta
Does this sound interesting? The beta version of Document Tagger is introduced on the website. Even if it was developed for SharePoint 2010 and never was quite finished, it gives a good idea on how the modern version will work.

More about metadata
In the Tips section you can find general info about SharePoint categorization and metadata. The most recent tutorials are for Office 365 SharePoint, but the principles are the same for on-premise installations.

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions