Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 has been out for quite some time and received a Service Pack update earlier in the year. While SP1 included the usual mix of performance, reliability and security fixes, it also provided a number of new and updated features with an eye toward the cloud. Another update makes it easier to use Yammer as the social network of choice over the outdated Newsfeed.
These updates will be all the new functionality SharePoint users can expect until the release of the next version of SharePoint sometime in 2015. Check out the SharePoint Updates page on the TechNet site for a complete list of updates to both SharePoint 2010 and 2013. It has links to the monthly security updates as well as Service Packs and Cumulative Updates.
Moving to Microsoft's Cloud
It's no secret Microsoft has a keen interest in promoting the use of its cloud-based services including Azure, Office 365 and OneDrive for Business. New functionality added in SharePoint 2013 SP1 makes it possible for the SharePoint administrator to quickly and seamlessly redirect individual or groups of sites and pages to the cloud. This presupposes a subscription to the Office 365 service, which comes with its own cost.
Moving company collaboration and communication tools like SharePoint to the cloud has both good points and bad. Many IT administrators have yet to be fully convinced of the cost benefits, while security officials weigh the potential security risks. Either one of these can be a show stopper for a cloud-based initiative. In reality, the potential security risks are not significantly higher when you add in appropriate measures such as two-factor authentication.
On the positive side, it's easy to see how moving to the cloud could greatly benefit organizations with highly mobile workers. Any sales team member with lots of frequent flier miles would become significantly more responsive with easier access to the corporate SharePoint site. The Office 365 connectivity makes it drop dead simple to push just the information you want out to the cloud and still maintain control over the content.
SharePoint customization has kept many developers busy as IT departments strive to deliver new functionality to their users. Visual Studio LightSwitch 2013 enables the developer to quickly and easily build applications which integrate tightly with SharePoint. The latest version of Visual Studio LightSwitch is part of the main product and includes the ability to build HTML-only applications which work with all the popular browsers. This feature allows the development of customized SharePoint applications which will run in the Office365 environment as well.
The latest version of Visual Studio 2013 also includes support for developing directly against an Office 365 Developer site. In practice it works almost identically to the process of developing against an internal SharePoint site. Some features, such as creating a SharePoint workflow, may require resources only available on-premises.
Microsoft's Team Foundation Server includes integration with SharePoint for implementing development dashboards and facilitating developer collaboration. It's another example of how Microsoft uses one product, in this case SharePoint, to enhance the feature set of another.
Another new developer tool comes in the form of support for JSON Light. This feature allows developers greater control over the amount of metadata returned in a SharePoint query. Previously the only choice was full metadata, which could be quite large. SP1 adds no metadata and minimal metadata to both reduce the amount of information and potentially speed up applications using this method.
Update or Not?
Many IT organizations are reluctant to apply updates to production servers unless they include critical security fixes or patches. Microsoft has not had a good track record of late with some of its monthly security updates being recalled due to unforeseen problems. It is a best practice to test updates on a non-production system before rolling them out to the entire organization.
While SharePoint Server SP1 does include a number of new features, the individual items might not be something every organization needs. If you're not looking toward using the Office 365 service or moving any of your information to the cloud, you won't necessarily need these new features. Microsoft has always made it possible to apply individual security updates without applying the full service pack. This approach does require quite a bit of additional effort to implement but is an option if needed.
Installing product updates used to be an automatic process, but that's no longer the case. Many companies have become increasingly more averse to any potential interruption of production servers caused by updates gone awry. Unless the update provides a significant feature upgrade, the risk is often judged as too great. In the end, it often comes down to how good a sales job the developers do to convince management of the need.
Paul Ferrill has been writing in the IT trade press for over 25 years. He's written hundreds of articles for publications like Datamation, Federal Computer Week, InfoWorld, Network Computing, Network World and PC Magazine and is the author of two books. He is a regular contributor to ServerWatch.com and several other QuinStreet Enterprise properties.