SPTechCon 2014: Dissecting the App Model with Microsoft’s Jeremy Thake

While last year it was SharePoint 2013, this year it appears that the hot topic for conferences is SharePoint Apps. In addition to hearing from Olaf Hubel in his keynote speech about how apps are a part of the Future of Work and Jason Himmelstein about Achieving Better Business Productivity Through Apps for Office, Jeremy Thake, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Microsoft, also had something to say regarding apps and the new app model. In his presentation titled Transitioning Your SharePoint Solution Model to the New SharePoint App Model, Jeremy discussed some changes that are inherent to adopting the app model, as well as what Microsoft’s vision for the future entailed.

Jeremy Thake began his discussion of the app model by delving deeper into Microsoft’s vision. Specifically, Microsoft’s primary goal in moving to the app model is to modernize the SharePoint platform. Historically, SharePoint development has unfortunately been behind the curve when compared to development on other Microsoft products. However, with the introduction of HTML5 and CSS3, we’ve been able to adopt a newer, more modern way to enhance SharePoint quickly and efficiently.

In order to understand the future of SharePoint development and the app model, it’s important to understand a bit about the evolution of the application. Similar to Jason Himmelstein, Jeremy noted that with each release of SharePoint, there has been a different specific attitude toward the application:

  • 2003 – What is an application?
  • 2007 – Everything is an application!
  • 2010 – Choose the right application.
  • 2013 – Redefine the application as an “app.”

First introduced at SPC 2012, the app model was sold as a new way to extend and interact with SharePoint. One of the biggest draws to the app model is that, unlike SharePoint customizations in earlier additions, SharePoint apps for SharePoint 2013 “live” OUTSIDE of the SharePoint server. In the past, customizations on the server took careful thinking to build upon SharePoint (and oftentimes were the cause of full-farm crashes), while SharePoint apps use isolated app client-side code in order to run. In turn, apps are able to be very clear about what they do and what functions within SharePoint they affect (lists and libraries, Active Directory, etc.).

Paramount to the evolution of the app model, according to Jeremy Thake, is incorporating user feedback. While the model has its strong points, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to perfect it. With continuous improvements based on feedback happening daily, Microsoft is working tirelessly to change the mindset of SharePoint developers in order to grow the app model.

Perhaps the most significant way in which Microsoft wants to change SharePoint developers’ mindsets is to get this community to stop being specifically “SharePoint developers” and instead view themselves as “Microsoft Office developers.” Since the development architecture for Office 365 apps is the same as that of SharePoint apps, Jeremy notes that there is a great opportunity for developers to broaden their skill sets and consider designing for other Microsoft clients such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Although the app model thus far has been popular and widely embraced, there are of course some natural concerns from adopters. Once, the major area of contention was the security of utilizing apps and the
app model. With the apps being housed outside the on-premise SharePoint server, how can we be confident that the app is secure? According to Jeremy, Microsoft has taken great steps to ensure that apps provide the utmost security and are breach-free. Specifically, before any app can enter the Microsoft App Store, the app is put through a rigorous review process. Additionally, vendors are required to agree to a strict set of Terms and Conditions, with violators’ apps being automatically removed – and banned – from the App Store.

While it will most likely be some time before the app model is universally adopted, there are definitely a great number of early adopters that have embraced and are championing the new model. In the meantime, Microsoft has been busied with empowering developers and providing the tools needed to drive the app model. Specifically, developers are encouraged to visit the Microsoft Office Dev Center, as well as to follow the Developer blogs in order to stay up-to-date on the latest app model news.

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