SharePoint 2013 Chat: Migration, the App Model

A blizzard or two ago, I chatted about SharePoint 2013 with Mike Fitzmaurice, Nintex vice president of product technology and a former technical product manager with the SharePoint team at Microsoft. The terrain we covered included migration challenges and also the new app model in SharePoint 2013.

What are you seeing with customers—are they moving to SharePoint 2013?

"There's universal interest in 2013, but it's all over the map as far as intentions go. It doesn't correlate to company size but to company culture. Automating processes is a universal concern, too. Whether you're running SharePoint in the cloud or locally, it's getting to the point where cloud services are enterprise services--provisioning, creating Exchange accounts, My Sites, provisioning account information on Sales Force--there are so many different permutations. What is critical is that if you're managing enterprise facilities, critical facilities, some will be on-premise, some will be cloud.

"We know people who are aggressively doing it right now, moving to SharePoint 2013. A whole lot are looking into what the details are. A common opinion I'm hearing is 'We don't have to migrate, but everything new we'll do on 2013—and later on if it makes sense to port things over, we'll move over.'

"From the IT point of view, there is one thing that will make migration more challenging—the new preferred way to authenticate users is claims. And that will require a new migration step.

"There's a big payoff in being able to pass off info about users between apps.  Claims is the only way it works online, and on-premises it's the preferred way. You either have to change to claims as you migrate—you really should—you can do it as you migrate from 2010 to 2013—or do it first.

"Go to claims first, then migrate—that's my advice. Then if anything happens, you'll know what happened. Claims are critical."

What do you think of SharePoint 2013?

"We are bullish on everything that's happened. With every new release of SharePoint, the platform improves. When the platform rises, all of us rise."

What's the deal with the SharePoint 2013 app model?

"The first attempt, the sandboxed solution, it imposed so many limits. About the only thing you could do was branding, and a few other things. This new one—it gives us the APIs to touch SharePoint and react to changes in SharePoint appropriately. Our code doesn't have to live inside it.

"Microsoft just made the platform we get to work with a whole lot more robust. The only price is, you have to do it differently. It's not harder, just different.

"The classic way of building apps for SharePoint involved inserting your code in SharePoint and modifying its behavior. And there were good and bad ways to do that. But there were so many nuances and idiosyncrasies--you had to be careful.

"Now the model for building for SharePoint is the way a lot of web apps are working. It's how Facebook apps are being developed. There's a way for you to touch what you're allowed to touch. There's a contract that tells you what you're allowed to do and what you're not allowed to do. And the user has some say in that.

"It just opened the doors to a lot of people who didn't know about SharePoint idiosyncrasies. It opened up to a lot of devs who weren't in SharePoint.

"I was the very first technical product manager for SharePoint. Back in the day, I had to knock on doors and tell people that SharePoint mattered. Dot Net developers, web devs, when they first looked at SharePoint, pre-2013, they tried to figure out how to put their app inside of it.

"Then they would discover—well, you don't actually own the individual SharePoint site, it's based on a template, and you're supposed to build a reusable one. You're not in charge of the site, but the type of site and the components the site uses. You have to wrap your head around a whole new way of app building. That's the culture shock that non-SharePoint developers had to deal with.

"But Microsoft gave them a new way—support OWA, support REST. You could create something in PHP for all Microsoft cares—it's going to work. As long as you can pass authentication via OWA, SharePoint will work. It will give you a place to appear inside of a SharePoint interface.

"The long and short of it in terms of solution design, if you want to build an app to put into SharePoint, you've got a safe way to do it that IT will be comfortable with."

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