SharePoint Top 5 Features for Newbies

SharePoint as a brand has been around for quite a few years now. I remember when the name was first announced back with the release of SharePoint Portal Server 2001. Since then we have been through multiple iterations, almost lost the branded title, and now in the cloud version squarely with the name SharePoint. As I thought about this, I wondered what it is that has made SharePoint such an excellent product time and time again. I wanted to look at the top five features of both SharePoint On-premises and SharePoint Online. This article aims to be a SharePoint tutorial for everyone, consider this as “Top 5 Features for SharePoint Dummies”.

SharePoint On-premises Top 5 Features

SharePoint On-premises has always been a little behind in features from the Online version, due to how development cycles work, and patch updates are rolled out. However, as newer versions were released feature parity is closer than ever. For SharePoint On-premises let’s look at the top five features for the most recent version.

Communication Sites

SharePoint 2019 supports using Communication Sites On-premises now. No other version on-premises does at the moment. The communication site is a modern replacement for using the older publishing portal approach to build websites. These types of sites allow for rich branding, layout and content management to create rich and engaging sites. Team Sites are all about collaboration and mainly people working within SharePoint Lists and Libraries as well as sharing information between themselves. Communication Sites are all about user engagement, easily sharing relevant information and creating engaging end-user experiences. In Communication Sites, most users will be consumers of the content, with a limited set of end users that will publish information.

Modern Lists and Libraries

The current list view has stayed the same since early versions of SharePoint. Apart from the style or changes to the navigation and ribbon bar, lists have not changed. Now with SharePoint 2016 onwards the full modern experience is available. Modern Lists and Libraries require enabling to use. To set the modern experience on for a site, directly navigate to a library, and press the “List Settings” button on the ribbon bar.

Click “Advanced Settings,” then scroll down to “List Experience,” then select “New experience” and save.

SharePoint 2019 natively enables the modern list experience.

Content Sharing

The ability to share sites, lists and libraries as well as content is a core requirement for all organizations. Investments continue to be made within SharePoint, allowing for a seamless and straightforward approach to sharing. To share a document with users select the file then right click and choose “Share”.

The new sharing dialog is then loaded, display who the content is currently shared with along with controls for sharing.

Enter the name or email address of the user to share with, then you can include a message, and then a personal email is sent to the user (if selected). The user can then access the content from the link.

Modern Search

On-premises SharePoint provides a rich search mechanism over all the content that is crawled within all the SharePoint sites. In SharePoint 2019, the new search is now a key feature and design consideration when creating solutions. Historically all users would navigate to a search center where the results would be displayed after performing a search. The search box at the top of the page simply returned results either within the search center or on a custom search page, configured for the specific results.

In the modern search experience, you will see results before you start typing, and the results update as you type. The search results page shows a compelling overview of search results, grouped by type. It’s easy to expand to see all the results of each type, for example, people or sites. On a people result, you can click the email address to get started on an email to that person quickly.

Better file and folder name support

SharePoint currently supports most normal characters as well as some extra ones. With SharePoint 2016 onwards these limitations have been removed. You can now create longer file names, that go beyond the 128 character limit, as well as use the following characters in the title: “&, ~, { and }.” File names that contain GUIDs and leading dots are also now supported. This allows you to migrate content more efficiently, keeping the original names you have for your content, instead of having to fix the file and folder names first.

SharePoint Online Top 5 Features

SharePoint Online is further ahead in features, as it is part of the overall Office 365 platform. Many extra services are available and used to enhance the SharePoint, because of the core platform it resides within.

Modern Page and Web Parts

In a Classic SharePoint experience, pages are rendered server side and are composed of web parts implemented using the server-side code in the language of your preference, typically C# or VB.NET. Modern pages are presented client side using JavaScript. These web parts give users a responsive user experience, available across multiple devices and browsers. Publishing modern pages is simplified, and users can now create new pages with rich content quickly and easily. Modern pages are now the default approach to adding pages, allowing end users to select the layout as well as the components that display on the page quickly using the picker.

SharePoint Hub Sites

A missing feature of SharePoint is the ability to connect multiple site collections to create a more cohesive structure. In the past organizations opted for numerous site collections and lived with the complexity that bought such as the Security boundary, or chose next Subsites, that allowed for better user experience. Within SharePoint Online now, a Hub Site can be created that will join existing site collections into a single structure allowing for better navigation and usage. SharePoint hub sites bring the following new capabilities to you and your intranet:

Cross-site navigation – increase the visibility of and navigation among associated sites
Content rollup – read the aggregated news and discover related site activities
Consistent look-and-feel – establish a common theme to improve visitor awareness of connected sites
Scoped search – focus on finding content that resides within the hub site’s associated sites

Directly from the user interface sites can be assigned to a hub site.

Column Formatting

Using the new modern list and library design, brings with it, the ability to apply column formatting. To format a column, directly access a modern library and click to “Add a column,” or select an existing column. From the menu select the “Format this Column.”

You can then apply a JSON string that will format the column as you need.

After adding some JSON, that will display color and icon based on the value, you can see it then renders the values with the new formatting.

OneDrive Zip File Support

A feature that has been needed since SharePoint began is the ability to zip files up and download them. This could be achieved with a 3rd party tool or custom development. However Office 365 now fully supports this approach within OneDrive for Business. To zip multiple files up, directly navigate to OneDrive for Business, then select the files you need to zip and then select the “Download” button which will automatically create the zip file and download them.

PowerApps and Flow Integration

PowerApps and Flow, enable people to automate workflows and quickly build custom apps that suit their specific needs. Flow creates workflows that can be associated with both lists and libraries, whereas PowerApps is used to develop rich forms and entry screens. Combined these two tools bring powerful features to the end user.

Within a SharePoint document library, a Flow can be created right from the toolbar, which then gets associated with that library.

PowerApps are available within lists, and also can be created directly from the toolbar.

Modern SharePoint lists support both Flow and PowerApps, whereas SharePoint libraries support Flow for workflow. Creating a PowerApp for an existing list is as simple as pressing the “Create an app” button and following the wizard. Once you have clicked to create the PowerApp, you are taken to the PowerApps design canvas where you can customize as needed. Once you have created the PowerApp, simply save and publish, which will make the PowerApp available directly within SharePoint. This App is available from the view menu, once clicked it will load with the data from the selected SharePoint list.

On clicking “Open” you are taken to the created PowerApp, backed by the SharePoint list for storage.

Microsoft Flow works in the same way. Clicking to create one can be done directly from the list or library, or within a created PowerApp.

As Microsoft adds more features to SharePoint, both for On-premises and Online, we will get a more powerful and easier to use solution. SharePoint should be our platform of choice for collaboration.

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Liam Cleary - SharePoint MVP
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