I’m a huge proponent of using SharePoint as a platform rather than as a product. By that, I mean that you should use SharePoint to build what you need, rather than limit your usage to what Microsoft has given you.
That’s now apparently coming to a full stop if we are to believe Jeff Teper, the father of SharePoint as we know it. We are no longer encouraged to modify SharePoint to fit our needs and instead should now use SharePoint the way Microsoft made it. In fact, Microsoft explicitly said to not touch it because we’ll only make it worse.
Note: For those who are reading this blog for the first time, welcome. I’m Bjørn, and I usually blow things somewhat out of proportion to make a point. I also usually back up my claims with fact and encourage you to make up your own mind using the sources of my opinions.
They Said What?
Monday July 16, 2012. The SharePoint community, nay, the entire world, got a huge orgasm when Steve Ballmer finally announced that SharePoint 2013 Preview was now available for download, and that we could finally see all the goodness we’d be getting. Months of speculation, rumors, endless reading of boring technical protocol documentation, as well as the mandatory manure spreading from certain parts of the community, was over.
When you fall in love, and I mean really fall in love, everything about the target of your affection is perfect. Even the morning breath of that person smells of the sweetest perfume. I’m fairly certain I’d happily wash Jeff Teper’s car with my tongue if that was one of the prerequisites for installing SharePoint 2013. Opportunity lost there, Jeff. Opportunity lost.
Of course, Jeff, as proud as a first-time parent, blogged about the new release, and we all congratulated the team on their achievement, just like we would to any first-time parents.
Then, a few of us started to sober up and started realizing that hydrogen sulfide really wasn’t the sweetest perfume, and that something didn’t sound quite right.
Here’s the quote from the blog post:
Use SharePoint as an out-of-box application whenever possible – We designed the new SharePoint UI to be clean, simple and fast and work great out-of-box. We encourage you not to modify it which could add complexity, performance and upgradeability and to focus your energy on working with users and groups to understand how to use SharePoint to improve productivity and collaboration and identifying and promoting best practices in your organization.
The somewhat poor language aside, in simpler terms, I, and apparently many others in the community, first read this as “Use SharePoint the way we gave it to you and teach your users how to use that”.
Mike Watson and myself each posted a question about this to the SPYam community. After a very short time, the discussion turned really interesting when Jeff Teper himself turned up to let us know what all this really meant.
It Can Mean Anything!
OK, Jeff didn’t say that, but the community had plenty of conflicting interpretations about what the original statement meant.
Does it mean
- we shouldn’t change master pages anymore to modify the UI?
- we shouldn’t modify any out-of-the-box functionality?
- we shouldn’t customize the user experience anymore?
We never really got to a point of common understanding, and many were shocked and frankly scared at what it could mean. For thousands of developers out there, it might mean that they no longer should do what they’ve been doing for years, and at best, that we’d now have to convince our clients and project managers that we really should change SharePoint, just like we always have.
When Jeff entered the discussion, things became clearer to us. Microsoft has seen that many SharePoint installations fail because people modify it willy-nilly, with little or no understanding of the impacts on user experience or functionality. Jeff called it the “Myspace problem”; too much freedom in untrained hands leads to broken user interfaces, which lead to poor user experiences, which give SharePoint a bad name.
In many cases, such modifications are not needed to harness the business goals. He wants to stop those unnecessary modifications, and he’s right.
The solution Microsoft proposes, however, isn’t a solution to the problem, only a cure for its symptoms. I’ll address this in a later blog post, but if clients and customers want to modify something to their needs, the solution can never be to deny them that ability. In essence, Microsoft is asking clients not to have the needs they have, or at least encourage them not to resolve those needs.
Dear SharePoint Clients, Please Read This
Microsoft is not yelling at you. You haven’t done anything bad in the past when you have modified or asked someone to modify your SharePoint installation.
You’re not to blame for being uncertain, either. Even seasoned community members didn’t understand fully what Microsoft meant at first, and only when the guy who wrote it came to us to explain did we grasp his intention and message, and it reads something like this:
SharePoint development and customization is great. You should do it as much as you need to get the results you want.
You should avoid doing customizations because it is cool or because you want to show off that you know how to move stuff around. Microsoft put the interface and experience together in a way they think works, and unless you know what you are doing, you should not attempt to better them.
If you do know what you’re doing, however, you should build the greatest and most beneficial solutions to your problems using the tools that makes sense for the task.
In other words, Microsoft is saying what everyone knows and hopefully agrees, that you should learn the trade before you set off building and modifying solutions that will determine or destroy the success of your SharePoint installation.
Or hire someone to do it…
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