A Modest Proposal. Jeff, Un-Gag the MVPs!

I’m going to propose something to Microsoft, specifically my new rising hero Jeff Teper, and the SharePoint community. I think this proposal may quell a lot of the complaints we’ve heard during the recent releases.

Before I make my proposal, and to introduce new readers to the issue at hand, let me give you the TL;DR (too long; didn’t research) version of the issue at hand.

A Brief History of Nearly Everything

During both the previous releases of SharePoint, meaning SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013, Microsoft has been extremely strict on what information people should have. This has lead to community complaints that they’re not getting enough information to make proper decisions about which version to target for new developments, what features they can safely use and that will remain supported, and whether new features will make current development efforts worthwhile or redundant.

Part of the issue has been that a secret club of community participants (MVPs) have been given this information in advance, under the provision that they don’t say anything to anyone (NDA).

A typical example of how this can turn out is the removal of design view in SharePoint Designer 2013; the MVPs knew months in advance but couldn’t warn their customers that what they were implementing wouldn’t be as easily maintainable in the next version of SharePoint. The NDA forced the MVPs to give their customers bad advice. They couldn’t suddenly stop recommending using design-view based solutions when they learned about the inevitable end of the support because customers would ask why and “I can’t really tell” doesn’t work well when explaining business solution decisions to customers.

Yeah, I said TL;DR. It’s more complex than this.

How Can Microsoft Solve This?

Now, Microsoft itself may not be capable of producing enough information to satisfy the thirst for details and information about new versions. After all, they barely have time to keep their existing content up to speed, and with information changing at a rapid pace during development, staying on top of every update in every article, providing insights and analysis, commenting on possible usages, and so on will overwhelm any team of content authors.

Except one. The MVPs.

You see, the MVPs already write this information. They keep up to date. They know the upcoming features. They have access to the code earlier than most. They often have more extensive experience with SharePoint than technical writers at Microsoft.

You can see this if you look at what I call the MVP verbal diarrhea happening on release day for any public beta of SharePoint. Virtually every MVP will publish tons of content that is reasonably up-to-date (although there are certainly exceptions). Much of it is similar in nature because, you know, everyone has to break the news that SharePoint 2013 will have an app store, but it is usually of good quality and at least not any worse than a lot of the other content out there.

This verbal diarrhea happens because of the gag-order from Microsoft. By preventing the MVPs from writing anything until a certain date, they are creating a dam of content that will flood over the landscape when the gates open.

Of course, because Microsoft has a formal and strict policy on publishing any content, and in any case wouldn’t be even close to keep up with the demand for information, the market, the community, and the users are left with another problem: Should we do something in the current version of SharePoint or wait for the next? Without proper information, making that decision is impossible, so mistakes are made and money is lost.

Finally, Microsoft misses out on a lot of customer feedback. MVPs aren’t users, at least not in any statistically significant manner, and the customer early access programs are largely a joke in terms of both scope and detail.

During the pre-launch phases, where I’ve been staying ahead of most of the crowd in having information and opinions, I usually get more questions about upcoming features from Microsoft’s early access customers than I get from others because the official information is lacking, the MVPs aren’t talking, and Microsoft doesn’t have capacity to follow up in a proper way.

Tear Down the Wall!

So, here’s a chance to kill both birds with one stone: Un-gag the MVPs. That’s right, take away the NDA for any announced version of SharePoint. Let them write about anything that is in the new version, is possibly in the new version, or maybe just a pipe dream of a new version.

I mean, the content will be out there in any case. Non-MVPs get as much and often more information than MVPs. We, and by we I mean the rest of the non-gagged community, will write whatever we damn well please, which is often wrong, too speculative, slightly hopeful, or plan lies (at least according to some lesser beings).

By allowing the MVPs to write about the stuff, at least Microsoft has a group of well-informed individuals that they can give directions more accurate than what ‘we’ can deduce from our various sources. MVPs can be told to mark clearly any information as ‘speculative rambling’ or ‘refers to possibly vaporware features’ or something more politically correct. They can say “Based on what we know at this point, XXXXX, but know that this may change at any time” without being threatened to lose their hard-begged three-letter adornments.

A non-gag policy allows MVPs to work better with the existing content base as well. MVPs can create better content and not have to rush out the door or have to compete with a hundred “SharePoint Designer is Free!” posts at the same time. The content base will likely have less duplicate content and possibly more cumulative information if MVPs build on each other’s information instead.

Sure, there will still be a lot of content, some of it wrong due to changing features, but it will satisfy the community’s and users’ need for information and quench the attention thirst from MVPs on release day. Microsoft gets more feedback from a broader user base and can allow customers to better prepare for what’s coming and not lose money on bad decisions.

This doesn’t even preclude Microsoft from putting time-sensitive information under specific NDA. It’s as easy as marking an email specifically as “Keep your bread hole shut until XX/XX/XXXX”. The press does this all the time and deals with it well, knowing that their information advantage goes away if they break the trust.

So, I think it’s time to stop the secrecy policy for MVPs. It will benefit Microsoft, the MVPs, the community, and the users.

It won’t hurt anyone.

What do you say, Jeff. Will you be my and the community’s hero once more?

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Thank You, Jeff Teper. You May Have Saved SharePoint

In recent months, I’ve been amazingly surprised about the attitude of certain people in Redmond. Chief, literally, among these are Jeff Teper, the father and still ultimate master of anything SharePoint at Microsoft.

I know, I know, it’s not as exciting when I’m not bashing anyone for ridiculous policies or legal mumbo-jumbo, but when credit it due, it should be paid in full.

Jeff Teper just announced during his keynote at the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas that there will be a new version of SharePoint for on-premises (codename Office 16) ready in 2015.

That’s the news. Take a break now, pop the champagne, and drink a toast to the man who may have completely turned around my previous highly critical thoughts on Microsoft’s secrecy policy.

Let me now dish out some well-deserved praise for a change.

Jeff, I know you’ll read this, so I’ll make this personally to you: Have my unconditional and almost unlimited thanks! I find myself repeating my admiration of what you’re doing, for being an awesome person who clearly listens to feedback from the community, and for someone who actually does something rather than just talk. You probably know I don’t give out praise lightly, so you have really earned what praise you’re getting from me.

OK, to pour a bit of old water into this, let me just say that I’m not expecting any miracles yet. There’s still a lot of secrecy that may ruin the great impression. We still don’t know too much about new features except lofty marketing words and phrases, at least not publicly. Maybe there still will be a need for someone to do a SharePoint 2015/2016 secrets type investigation and publication.

However, unlike what I’ve seen and experienced in the past, Jeff has started off what may be a great new trend: Being open with the community, regardless of silly three-letter political titles or personal connections. Perhaps this is the time when there will be no need for battles of information between haves and have-nots in the ramp up to the first public beta.

And no, I’m not high on anything. If you remember, Jeff was the guy who confirmed that there would be new versions of SharePoint on-premises in a public comment to one of my questions on Yammer just a few months ago, before or at least time as any MVPs were informed directly.

So, keep it up, Jeff. You’re slowly but surely winning back at least this skeptic of Microsoft’s public information policy and attitude towards the SharePoint community. If I were at SPC, I’d pat you on your back and shake your hand.

Well done!

.b

PS: Oh, one more thing, Jeff… You know, of course, that you’re putting the bar extremely high now for getting further praise, right? I’ll have a few suggestions for you, so stay tuned.

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Question on Deploying Solutions to a Web Application in SharePoint

I got a question from a new user of the Magick framework, regarding deployment of solutions to a web application. Here’s the anonymized question:

I was reviewing the upgrade framework […] and noticed that everything is currently being deployed globally. Is there a reason that this framework needs to be global or can it be changed to be scoped to a particular web application?

Excellent question and one that confuses a lot of developers. This question isn’t just relevant to Magick either.

Short answer: There’s no difference.

Longer answer: Deploying a WSP to a particular web application does not, in fact, limit that solution, features, or components to that web application. In fact, it is quite the opposite; limiting a deployment to a certain web application creates problems with other web applications.

Features and solutions in SharePoint are always global and there’s no built-in way to modify that. You can activate web application scoped features on a specific web application, but that’s an entirely different matter and not applicable here.

What you actually do when you deploy to a certain web application is deploy any web application specific setting to IIS. For example, if you’re deploying an ASP.NET control, the web.config needs to be told to allow this control (through a SafeControl entry). You may also have any number of other IIS specific web.config changes.

Deploying a solution to a web application activates those settings in IIS and forces a reload of the web application. It does not in any way affect availability of those features or components in other web applications.

Because of the mandatory IIS recycle which leads to service interruption, Microsoft allowed for granular control over when and where a deployment happens so that the deployment could target off-peak hours or service windows for web applications that are critical or highly utilized.

The distinction is important because if you use those controls is web applications where you haven’t deployed the solution, IIS will not have the required changes in place and SharePoint will block those controls, giving you otherwise ‘weird’ error messages.

Frameworks like Magick or SPSIN will see every feature in the entire farm, regardless of deployment, when asking SharePoint for features available to a certain site or web. Users will see features from any installed solution, regardless of whether that solution is deployed to the web application. As such, you can have features that fail on activation simply because they haven’t been deployed to the web application and rely on IIS specific configurations like SafeControl entries.

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