SharePoint 2013 is a missed opportunity

There is lots to like in SharePoint 2013 preview. The new interface stylings, whilst inconsistent in their current form, show some nice touches. The new social features are a big improvement on what went before. SkyDrive integration is potentially very useful, and adds to what was already a very solid document management offering. But my overall feeling: SharePoint 2013 is a missed opportunity.

The new social features don’t go far enough. Microsoft all but admitted this before the beta was released, by purchasing Yammer. They are now no doubt working hard trying to integrate it with the SharePoint code base. So presumably what we have now is "SharePoint Social 1.0", a stop gap at best?

The concept of ‘Apps’ has been grafted into SharePoint somewhat clumsily. We now have web parts, app parts, lists, libraries, and apps. Which is which, and when (it varies depending on what screen you use), isn’t clear. It might only be terminology, or the issue might run deeper, but apps in SharePoint seems badly thought out right now.

I work with lots of end users of SharePoint. What I would have liked to see, and what they needed, is much more focus on the user interface and the feel of SharePoint in this new version. There are some very powerful features in SharePoint, like Views on lists and libraries, but end users find them difficult to use and configure -- if they find them at all. Even a simple thing like adding rich content to a page is a lot harder than it should be. The text editor tends to have a mind of its own, and this issue so far remains in the new version.

SharePoint 2010 has a ton of features. Indeed the tool is known for having a bit of a kitchen sink approach to functionality. Like Word or Excel, 90 percent of users only use 10 percent of what is available. End users would have benefited much more if SharePoint 2013 had kept the same basic feature set and Microsoft had spent its development budget on polishing the interface.

The Ribbon, introduced in SharePoint 2010 was a good start, but SharePoint is a complex tool that needs much more love in this area. I don’t mean new icons or a fresh lick of paint. I mean a real hard look at how features are accessed, how content is added, how media is managed. Basically some real investment in how the tool is used and interacted with (for end and power users) instead of what it does.

As things stand SharePoint 2013 is bigger and more powerful. But is it better? For end users? I honestly don’t think it is.

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