What is the Microsoft SharePoint “Modern” Experience?

SharePoint supports two basic User Interfaces (UI) designs; The “Classic” experience, and the “Modern” experience. 

The “Classic” experience is a highly customizable user interface that integrates SharePoint lists and libraries. 

The “Modern” experience is mobile ready, (currently) limits the visual customization that can be done, makes the creators’ experience more intuitive, and makes the user’s experience more collaborative.

This means the “Modern” experience is ready to use, where the “Classic” experience requires a bit more configuration if defaults are accepted, and design and development if high customization is required.

While Microsoft will continue to support the “Classic” design for the foreseeable future, Microsoft focuses all development efforts into improving the “Modern” design; “Modern” is Microsoft’s path forward.

Our Analysis

Microsoft rarely tells us the grand plan for initiatives they roll out, so often we need to look at the big picture to determine why they are going one route or another.  Not all of their initiatives, such as Windows 8 charms, or the “Metro” style, are huge successes, and occasionally they backtrack (Much of the Windows 8 styles were made optional in Windows 10, reverting back to the desktop)

When Microsoft comes out with new technology, such as the “Modern” SharePoint experience, we need to ask ourselves, why are they doing it, and should I be an early adopter?  With the introduction of “Modern” pages in SharePoint Online in 2017, are “Modern” pages mature?

Microsoft does do a good job of communicating what “Modern” is, so this document will not revisit that topic,  (https://support.office.com/en-us/article/sharepoint-classic-and-modern-experiences-5725c103-505d-4a6e-9350-300d3ec7d73f) however we will perform some analysis as to why Microsoft created it, and what are the pros and cons of using it. 

Why did Microsoft Create “Modern”?

The answer to the question regarding why Microsoft created “Modern” boils down do one thing: Office 365.  Office 365 is the jewel in the Microsoft crown.  The better Office 365 is, the better Microsoft will do as a company.  This means that Microsoft will do anything and everything to make Office 365 faster, stable, feature rich, smarter and easier to use.  If follows that everything related to Office 365 must be more cost effective, less complex, easier to update, easier to use, etc.

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Setting the Stage

To understand why Microsoft created the “Modern” experience, we need to understand some of the driving factors behind Office 365.  As with any business, Microsoft wants to reduce costs and increase revenue.  Cost reduction comes in the form of standardized, repeatable processes (that can be automated on the Microsoft side), and revenue increases come from increasing Office 365’s value.  Here are some areas for cost reduction and revenue (value) improvements (in no order and not comprehensive):

  • Control Costs
    • Reduce bug reports
    • Simplify troubleshooting
  • System Stability and Reliability
    • Keep the system up and running
    • Apply bug fixes
  • Security
    • Keep the system secure
    • Keep tenants their own secure containers
    • Delegate authority to tenants for their own tenancy
  • Ease of Use
    • Keep the system accessible from anywhere on the Internet
    • Introduce new features
    • Promote and enhance interoperability between Office products
    • Provide an integrated “workplace” for office users
    • Keep the system accessible to any browser
    • Keep the system accessible to different form factors (phone, tablet, desktop)
    • Make the system smarter (through artificial intelligence)
    • Make the system ADA compliant
  • Support Existing Applications
    • Support existing “Classic” SharePoint systems

In the “Classic” experience, the tenant is responsible for the look and feel (“Branding”) of the site.  The tenant must create & choose master pages, layout pages, fonts & sizes, JavaScript, images, etc… The tenant is left to decide on issues such as styles, ADA compliance, responsive design, as well as perform testing across browsers and screen sizes. In the “Classic” experience, the tenant has almost complete control of the site and can present information in any manner they choose at the expense of the development and testing costs.

In the “Modern” experience, Microsoft is responsible for the look and feel.  This allows them to make the pages easy to use, responsive, ADA compliant, cross-browser compatible, and easily maintainable (both bugs and features).   The same “Modern” look and feel is also applied to Microsoft applications (such as Planner) creating a cohesive Office 365 experience.   A standard experience across tenants also allows Microsoft to perform easier troubleshooting and reduces bug reports. These benefits come at the cost of tenant’s ability to easily customize their SharePoint site.

Please read other Kiefer articles that discuss the pros and cons of SharePoint “Modern” and compare and contrast the “Classic” and “Modern” experience.

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