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The Curtain Rises (Just a Bit) on SharePoint 2010

Today at the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in New Orleans, Microsoft raised the curtain on SharePoint 2010, revealing for the first time, officially and publicly, some of the features and directions of the next version of SharePoint, which will be released in the first half of 2010. With tremendous levels of discipline around the message and with an astonishing amount of restraint, the SharePoint Product Team let the sun shine in on some tantalizing tidbits and invited the world to join Microsoft at the SharePoint Conference in October to see all the rest of what's behind the curtain.

Let me start by giving you the bottom line: You will want to upgrade to SharePoint 2010. This isn't going to be a Windows Vista-like debacle of market perception or a Microsoft Office 2007 "big leap of training." This is going to be a tremendous amount of new functionality, capability, and value that will absolutely improve just about every SharePoint implementation, not to mention the lives of SharePoint users, administrators, and developers. There is so much to be excited about that it's, well, exciting!

That said, unfortunately, you aren't going to learn everything there is to know about SharePoint 2010 quite yet. The sneak peek that Microsoft revealed today highlights only about two dozen major improvements—there are more to come, and some "doozies" at that. Isn't it something that a "peek" can still reveal two dozen major improvements? Two dozen is a lot, and for each of us there will be different features that stand out. Let me cover a few of the features that got me most excited:

  • The entire end-user experience is improved. A great technology is worthless if it isn't adopted, and SharePoint's new UI is sure to accelerate adoption. It sports a rich, Ribbon-based (though the Ribbon can be hidden), asynchronous interface that lets you do in one or two clicks, on one page, what took many clicks through many pages to achieve in SharePoint v3/2007. SharePoint's new UI is simply much more productive and intuitive. And users won't be limited to Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) any longer. Firefox, Apple's Safari, and "other browsers" (I guess we'll see what that means) will be supported as well. The "look and feel" and content of a site can be easily changed through features such as Rich Theming and Web Edit, the latter of which lets you edit any part of any page, in place and WYSIWYG—like a Wiki on steroids.
  • Data can be surfaced and interacted with in brilliant new ways. Whether it's SharePoint data or data in back-end applications and databases, it all shows up as a SharePoint list thanks to Business Connectivity Services (BCS), the evolution of the Business Data Catalog. And, very importantly, it's no longer a one-way street. The BCS supports writes as well as reads! But it doesn't stop there. The data can go through SharePoint directly into Office applications like Microsoft Word, which can consume and interact with the list-data-that-is-really-back-end-data. And you can take it all offline for read-write sync using SharePoint Workspace, the rebranded and overhauled 2010 version of Groove. Speaking of SharePoint Workspace and offline, it takes everything offline: lists, libraries, BCS data…it's amazing!
  • SharePoint 2010 offers rich media support. I do a lot with media, so the fact that SharePoint can now host videos effectively, can incorporate Microsoft Silverlight with a built-in Silverlight Web part, and can provide interaction with media in Office clients is a great thing!
  • Visio Services is really something. Much like Excel Services allows a user to view and interact with Excel data in a browser without a local installation of Excel, Visio Services does the same thing for Visio diagrams. But of course Visio is an application that far fewer users have installed locally in the first place, so it's impact will be that much bigger. Tom Rizzo's example of Visio Services tapping into back-end data sources and creating dynamic diagrams was super impressive.

All of those things will provide business value and drive adoption. But what about those of us who have to administer and support SharePoint 2010? As a SharePoint admin, I found the following to be exciting:

  • Central Administration has been overhauled and has a much cleaner, more productive, more intuitive interface with lots of new functionality under the hood. Lots of new reports, too!
  • With a technology as complex as SharePoint, every administrator will appreciate the built-in Best Practices Analyzer, which will help identify potential problems before they become real headaches.
  • A major limitation in SharePoint v3/2007 is the scalability of lists and libraries, which because of query performance took some tweaking to support more than 2,000 items. No longer. Large lists (millions of items) and libraries are "in," and SharePoint provides lots of ways for you to manage large lists and their impact on your database performance.
  • The previously mentioned Ribbon is new. While it can be hidden, it does mean some training, right? So isn't it fantastic that SharePoint 2010 has a Visual Upgrade feature that lets you keep the old look and feel until you're good-and-ready? You can preview the effect of the upgrade to make sure nothing will break, then you can make it stick. Good work on that one Microsoft!

And finally, for the developers, it's all about Visual Studio 2010 SharePoint Tools, which will certainly make "sane" a number of the previously insane tasks required to develop effectively for SharePoint. There's also Language-Integrated Query (LINQ—a client object model), the previously mentioned BCS and Silverlight Web parts, and—a favorite of mine—the developer dashboard, which can expose debugging information on any SharePoint page.

These improvements are, as Microsoft repeatedly emphasizes, just the tip of the iceberg! There is so much more hidden out of view, and Microsoft wants the world to come to the SharePoint Conference to see it. I'm guessing that it'll be the world's first "ghost conference" because Microsoft can't really reveal what sessions will be delivered without revealing the other "doozies" that it wants to keep secret until then! So come to Vegas and "gamble" that you'll see and learn some great things. It's a safe bet!

Until then, take the time to go to Microsoft's new SharePoint 2010 landing page. Watch each of the three video sneak peeks and start digesting the few tasty morsels Microsoft is tossing to us. This is just the appetizer, folks. Enjoy it!

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