For those of you using SharePoint Online on Office 365, you may have heard about the new SharePoint Modern User Interface (SPfx) that Microsoft is slowly rolling out.
Many of us in the SharePoint community are really excited to see the SharePoint look and feel brought up to date with responsive design, and a fresh new experience which aligns better with the rest of Office 365 services. It really is laying the groundwork for a Digital Workplace and an eventual seamless experience between SharePoint and other services like Groups, Planner, OneDrive and more.
However, when is the right time to move to this new Modern UI? When should you open it up to your user community in a production environment? The answer to that is not for a while, perhaps 12 – 18 months. Why? Well because the Modern UI is only about two-thirds of the way there.
If you have existing SharePoint sites, you will find that the Modern UI will only support some of your list types. It only supports custom lists and not Tasks, Calendars, Contacts etc. Those will still display in the Classic UI. So your end-users will see two different UIs depending on the type of list they are in. This will even change where and how navigation is shown. Now that will really mess them up! Feel free to peruse this article which dives deeper into Modern Vs. Classic Interfaces.
If you are taking advantage of Office 365 Groups and shared OneDrives, your user community is already exposed to some of the Modern UI, as that is the standard interface for OneDrive. Part of the new strategy is to make SharePoint Document libraries and OneDrive share the same type of user interface.
So if you do turn on the Modern look for your SharePoint Document Libraries, it will be more consistent with OneDrive. However, it will not look anything like the rest of your SharePoint site. Our friend Nathan Wells' blog illuminates the troublesome differences in the two looks. This puts it all in a no-win scenario. If you have SharePoint sites that are more than just document repositories, with lists, then use the Classic UI.
If the only reason you are using SharePoint is to share documents and you are rolling out Office 365 and OneDrive to your users, then the Modern UI might be OK. Once again it is all about consistency of user experience.
Finally, regarding converting your Home pages to the Modern UI, again that has a lot to do with being ready for production in things like new web parts, navigation handling and layout options. Like the rest of the roll-out of the Modern UI, site page building and editing is coming along but not quite there.
Traditional SharePoint Site Pages were built using standard webpart page layouts, CSS tricks and sometimes required changing the Master Page. Because of the short-comings, there were a wealth of web parts developed over the years to put whatever you needed on the page.
With the Modern UI, you no longer need to worry about all the complexities of the old Classic approach. Site pages are responsive out of the box, as are the web parts built specifically for SPfx. The long term vision is excellent, but the issue is when will there be enough function to support a production roll-out for end-users? Again, not for a while. Doing something like just providing a list of open tasks on a department home page is not possible because a Tasks list is not supported in the Modern UI. Page layouts (columns, etc) is very limited, and the availability of web parts in the early stages. Many of them are still somewhat buggy. So don’t get your users excited about the new UI just yet. You can read here one of the many siren songs wooing new users.
At SP Marketplace, we also are seeing Microsoft announce new site templates like the Communications site which is a precursor to a simple Intranet page. It also is in early stages but shows promise.
The good news is we are seeing site page capabilities growing quickly! For vendors of out-of-the box Intranet and Operational Portals, this investment by Microsoft allows us to eventually take our solutions to new levels of ease of use.
Today we are implementing SPfx on our existing products, and will be showing a prototype of our Intranet, Employee Self-Service and Department Portal at Microsoft's Ignite Exposition September 25-29 in Orlando, Florida.
We are also integrating Office 365 services like Planner, Groups and other seamlessly into our Portals, and the Modern UI will bring it together in a common user experience across SharePoint and Office 365.
All this leading to real-life delivery of a true Digital Workplace on Office 365 over the next 12 months, assuming SPfx is ready for Prime-time.