Why Microsoft closing SharePoint Autohosted apps is a good thing

cat autohostedOne of the important news lately in the SharePoint world is that Microsoft has discontinued Autohosted apps. For those of you who are not familiar with SharePoint apps and autohosted apps in particular, here is the nice presentation outlining main idea behind apps: http://bit.ly/1AEf87I. Autohosted apps have perished but it is always good to know and understand why. It was a wise decision from the SharePoint team side to discontinue autohosted apps before they have reached production. Infrastructure problems with this type of apps were too complex to conquer and keeping autohosted model in its current implementation would be a nightmare to maintain and support. Below are my Top 3 on why autohosted apps model was DOA once it has been released.

3 main reasons why closing autohosted apps is a good move from the SharePoint team.

1. Lack of support from the underlying Azure platform.

I see it as the main reason why autohosted apps have never reached production level quality. Azure platform is developing rapidly, but still it lacks a set of important services. Azure competitors in the PaaS market have got services allowing to easily deploy and scale server side code applications (for example, Cloud Code service in the CloudFoundry). Azure is still to provide such service that can be used by the SharePoint team as a foundation for its applications architecture.

 

2. No compatibility with on-premise SharePoint.

While Microsoft is paying a lot of attention to its cloud services and SharePoint Online in particular, on premises deployments are still a vital part of any enterprise architecture. The inability to provide a support for autohosted apps in on-prem environments was a great disadvantage of the whole concept. Once again as with Azure online platform, Microsoft is working on the ability to provide a private cloud services with its Azure Pack, but it is just not there yet.

 

3. Implementation was too complex for its goals

The last point is that the implementation approach selected for autohosted apps was way too complex for its envisioned goals. Autohosted apps were envisioned as a way to implement server side, small to medium complexity tools (like validation checks, team site productivity utilities, and event receivers). The underlying implementation with Microsoft hosting Azure Web Sites and SQL databases in its own tenant with no transparent control over the environment was too complex to get to the production.

 

Conclusion

Setting aside server side development options such as farm and sandbox solutions, there is currently a definite gap in Microsoft’s vision for SharePoint apps. The gap that should be filled by a more usable, functional and reliable approach. The idea behind the autohosted apps was right. It was the implementation that wasn’t good enough, more precisely, there was not enough support from the underlying Azure platform.

So for now, we can just sit back, relax, and wait for a new SharePoint apps approach to appear.


And… we are back for the second season!

chuck&beans welcome to blogging!

original comic strip

 

Welcome back to our SharePoint blog.

We are starting the second season once again sharing our SharePoint related thoughts, ideas,
and experience.
Stay tuned!


Office 365: SharePoint Apps for Public Websites as of June 2013

In one of my previous posts on SharePoint as CMS, I have mentioned that third party vendors will greatly influence the popularity of the SharePoint 2013 platform. The diversity and the quality of additional components available for SharePoint 2013 define both the functionality and the final cost of your website. This equally applies to on-premises and SharePoint Online deployments.

For SharePoint Online environments based on Office 365, Office store is envisioned as the main point to look for additional components.

Let’s look at what is available now at SharePoint apps marketplace that might help to build public-facing websites.

What Are These Apps?

There are about 200 SharePoint apps available on the store right now, and 24 of them are in the Public-facing websites category. There are some additional apps in other categories that relate to CMS functionality but they do not make much difference.

If we will take a deeper look at these 24 apps, we will find out that:

  • 6 Apps are components for an image slider. Starting from free ones and up to $40, they all provide similar functionality.
  • 6 Apps are different types of graphs (all from a single vendor).
  • 3 Apps allow to show an information on a map.
  • 2 Apps are countdown timers.
  • 2 Apps provide Facebook integration.
  • The rest 5 Apps are a WordPress blog integration, YouTube videos gallery, RSS and social networks feed, external web analytics services integration (this on is from Microsoft) and a set of 12 page layouts.

My Personal Top 3

While there is not that much to select from, my personal top 3 for Apps that improve SharePoint CMS functionality would be the following:

Bright Banner

3rd Place

Bright Banner from Shannak – third place goes to one of six image slider components. Image sliders are widely used for landing pages and as banner rotators on lots of websites and it is nice to have a ready to use component for that in SharePoint Online. You can select any other image slider from available on the store, as they are very similar in terms of functionality. I have selected this particular one, as it is simple and free.

Web Analytics Integration2nd Place

Web Analytics Integration from Microsoft Corporation – this app allows to integrate a website with external analytic services like Google Analytics and Yahoo! Analytics by injecting a piece of javascript code on every site page. While being very simple it is very useful, as it allows to get detailed analytics reports on your site’s traffic and users.

SimplePages 1st Place

SimplePages from SONJAsAPPS – this is a set of 12 page layouts that can be used on a public-facing website to define the structure of pages. It is the most expensive App in that category (the price for this one is $200) but I like it most of all in terms of CMS functionality. With that App, you will have a flexibility of managing the structure of you pages by yourself with no need to contract external services provider. Additionally I like the fact that the App vendor, Sonja Madsen, provides a set of 19 Apps aiming mostly the look and feel side of the platform. I hope that these Apps will eventually form a unified pack of logically connected features that will enrich SharePoint Online environment.

The rest of Apps can be useful in specific scenarios, but will not be applicable to every website (e.g. charts, WordPress integration, countdown timer, etc.).

You may look at the list of Public-facing Website Apps available by the following address: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/store/results.aspx?vtags=Public-facing%20Websites&avg=osu150.

Recommendations and Conclusion

Well, as for now, there are no much Apps to look at if we are talking about using SharePoint Online as CMS for public websites. There will be a little help from Apps vendors, as the amount and variety of Apps still need a lot of improvement.

If you are looking at building your public website using Office 365, you may consider the following options:

  • Use out-of-box functionality to build a simple website by yourself. If you have already decided to use SharePoint Online for you public website, you would be able to setup a website and provide some basic information about yourself, your contact details, services or products description. Additionally you may use Apps available to enhance your site, they are easy to use and configure.
  • Find a service provider to help you to build a site with you. If you need a site more complex than a couple of static pages, it would make sense to find a partner that will do all the work for you (in case you don’t have the right team in-house). A competent service provider should be able to help you to collect and prioritize requirements for your site and recommend the right platform for the site (as SharePoint Online is only one of possible options). Moreover, do not forget about the UI design, building the website, rolling it out, assistance in content editors’ trainings and support. It is worth mentioning that all the functionality, not covered by out-of-box functionality, would be implemented by the vendor (which will affect the duration and cost of the site). A vendor either will implement it anew or will use internal components, as there is no much assistance from third party vendors for now.

If you would like to know more about possible options, you may look at the post about the applicability of SharePoint 2013 as CMS.

We will get back to that topic later to check on the progress of Microsoft and third party vendors in the area of SharePoint 2013 CMS functionality and Apps available on the Office 365 store.


10 Ways to Get SharePoint 2013 Demo Environment

Today I am going to share with you 10 ways to get the SharePoint 2013 demo environment.

You can use these environments to run a proof of concept, provide sales or a familiarization demo, and get yourself, your users, colleagues or customers familiar with SharePoint features.

1.      On-Premises Deployment

This one is quite straightforward – you can download either a free Foundation (http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=35488) or a trial Enterprise (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-US/evalcenter/hh973397.aspx) version of SharePoint 2013. Enterprise version features would be fully functional and will be available for 180 days.

The benefit of this approach is that it gives you a full control over your demo environment and allows you to setup any farm configuration or features set you need. Additionally, this option gives you a good performance comparing with cloud-based options (because of a low network latency).

A drawback of the approach is that you need your own servers to host the environment. All the setup and configuration should be performed in-house as well.

If you are planning to run demonstrations on your internal platform, I would recommend to consider using additional content packs published by Ivan Sanders on CodePlex (http://sharepointdemobuilds.codeplex.com/). Once deployed, these packs add demo data to your platform and would add some flavor to your demonstrations (targeting self-service BI scenarios, Visio services, user profiles, etc.).

2.      On-Premises VM Hosting

This approach is similar to the first option, but instead of installing SharePoint 2013 on your servers, you host SharePoint 2013 in a virtual environment (using VMs with deployed and configured SharePoint).

Of course, there is always an option to create your own set of VMs with SharePoint 2013 from scratch. However, the better option would be to use the SharePoint 2013 VM kindly prepared by PilotHouse Consulting (http://www.pilothouseconsulting.com/sharepoint-products-cbt/sharepoint-2013-environment-setup-options.html#option2).

Microsoft has not publicly published VMs with SharePoint 2013 for information workers yet, and they should become available later (previously Microsoft distributed a similar VMs for SharePoint 2010).

Tip for Microsoft Partners: If your company is a Microsoft Partner, you can obtain a ready VM environment and some additional demo and training materials on this site: https://www.microsoftofficedemos.com.

3.      Office 365 Trial

Now let’s switch to options available online.

Office 365 provides a wide set of services including SharePoint Online. You can use Office 365 to get a quick access to SharePoint 2013 features. There is a one-month free trial available for Small Business Premium, Midsize Business, and Enterprise E3 plans (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/compare-office-365-for-business-plans-FX102918419.aspx).

Once signed up, you will get an access to your own online SharePoint 2013 environment. Some limitations applied for this environment due to the cloud nature of SharePoint Online: you will not be able to deploy farm solutions, access server, and modify some farm level configuration settings.

4.      SharePoint Online

While SharePoint Online is available as one of services provided by Office 365 platform (together with Exchange, Office Web Apps, and Lync), you can get only SharePoint Online as a separate service.

There are two plans available for SharePoint Online named Plan 1 and Plan 2 (a comparison of plans is available here http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint/collaboration-tools-compare-sharepoint-plans-FX103789400.aspx).

While there is no free trial available for SharePoint Online plans, they are quite affordable ($3.00 and $7.00 user/month). You can purchase a limited number of licenses to get your own SharePoint 2013 environment to create a PoC or run demos.

What Is the Difference Between Plans?

With all options available, it could be hard to understand differences between all the SharePoint plans. The following comparison matrix will help you to understand what features are available with each SharePoint Online plan: http://bartholdsonconsulting.com/office-365-sharepoint-boston/office-365-sharepoint-plan-comparison/. Guys from Bartholdson Consulting did a really great job with that one.

If you want to get a full description of SharePoint services available with each Office 365 and SharePoint Online plans, it is available in this TechNet article: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj819267.aspx#bkmk_tableo365.

5.      Azure with SharePoint

Another option for a SharePoint 2013 environment is that you can create and host it using Azure cloud platform. You can select SharePoint 2013 Trial image (trial license for SharePoint 2013 Enterprise on that image will expire on October 16, 2013) from a list of templates for a new virtual machine.

If you do not have an Azure account, you can sign up for a free 90-day trial here http://aka.ms/AzureVMFreeTrial.

A good get started guide on setting up SharePoint 2013 image using Azure is available in this article: http://blogs.technet.com/b/wbaer/archive/2013/04/16/get-started-with-sharepoint-server-2013-fast-on-windows-azure.aspx.

6.      CloudShare

CloudShare is a virtual environment provider that allows you to quickly setup and run your own SharePoint 2013 platform. It gives you a preconfigured SharePoint 2013 image that already includes demo sites, users and documents, which makes it a good choice as a demo platform.

What differentiate CloudShare from other cloud environments providers is the list of additionally available SharePoint showcase environments (http://www.cloudshare.com/showcase). For now, these environments are mostly for SharePoint 2010, but they can serve as a great demo platform for complex integration scenarios and 3rd party enterprise products (e.g. “SharePoint 2010 + Dynamics CRM 2011”, “SharePoint 2010 + Project Server 2010”, “Business document capture, management and workflow with Kodak Info Activate Solution”, “Enterprise Email Management with SharePoint 2010 with Colligo”, etc.).

You can sign up for a free 15-day trial here: https://use.cloudshare.com/Pro/Registration.mvc/Form?.

7.      Acxess Microsoft Online Demo Solutions

This site provided by Acxess is one of my favorites as a demo environments provider. It gives you a list of preconfigured environments including “All-up SharePoint 2013 Demos” image (SharePoint 2013 environment with demo data already provisioned).

Once signed in, you can select an environment from a catalog and either start it right away or schedule it for later. This will create a preconfigured environment in a cloud (which takes a couple of minutes) and will provide you with a link to a remote desktop connection. After that, the platform is all yours and you can use it to run a demo. This is a really great choice if you need a platform (and you need it quickly) for a demonstration of a standard SharePoint 2013 functionality.

Additionally there are demo scripts available that provide you a demo scenario that you can use (i.e. Word documents providing step-by-step guides for demos).

8.      Rackspace

Rackspace is a leading managed hosting provider and it provides a variety of enterprise hosting services including a special offer for a SharePoint hosting (http://www.rackspace.com/enterprise_hosting/sharepoint/). You can use this service as a trial, PoC or a demo platform. By the way, Rackspace has acquired SharePoint 911 Company, which distinct them from other hosting providers (as SharePoint 911 team are real SharePoint professionals).

There is a 45-day free trial available for SharePoint 2013 (there is a “SharePoint 2013 free trial” link in the menu on the page http://www.rackspace.com/enterprise_hosting/sharepoint/#sharepoint-offer-form). And check the “How many kittens do you see?” captcha on the sign up form, which is definitely awesome.

9.      Other hosting providers

There are other hosting providers that support preconfigured SharePoint 2013 environments as well.

You can use one of them to run preconfigured SharePoint 2013 or get a clean Windows environment and setup your own SharePoint 2013 configuration.

While selecting a hosting provider for your production environment is a complex process that involves a lot of factors, virtually any provider will work for demo needs.

10. Spsdemo.com

The last one for today is the SharePoint Server 2013 Demo site (previously known as WSSDemo.com). This site created by Ian Morrish contains a list of publicly available websites based on SharePoint. You can either view a list of sites or use the Pivot Viewer http://sps.cloudapp.net/. I would recommend to use the Pivot Viewer as it is easier to navigate and it allows to filter sites by SharePoint version (platform), industry, and country.

All these sites created with different versions of SharePoint would give you an idea on how your SharePoint site may look like (if you want to run a public website built with SharePoint).

I hope this information was helpful and you have found the right option for your SharePoint 2013 demo environment. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or email me at sharepointballet@gmail.com.


Friday Cats 3

Friday Cats 3


Grouping, Linking and Referencing Documents in SharePoint: The Definitive Guide.

Grouping together or linking documents is one of common tasks in SharePoint. There are quite a lot of scenarios, when you might need to group documents, reference a document or link it in one way or another. While the optimal solution would depend on lots of factors (the main is your actual business needs), it would be good to know your options.

In this article, I will review approaches available in SharePoint (applicable to both SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013). Keep in mind that several approaches described below can supplement each other and can be used at the same time to provide you the functionality you need.

The main goal of this post is to give you an idea of what is available to you, so you could make the right choice.

Read the rest of this entry »


Friday Cats 2

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