SharePoint 2013: A low-key update you'll love

A familiar architecture means no radical change for IT, just welcome enhancements to what you have in SharePoint 2010

As part of an across-the-board retooling of its server products, Microsoft is revising SharePoint 2013. Given the impressive features and UI enhancements in SharePoint 2010, I've been uncertain about what Microsoft could do to SharePoint 2013 that would actually make it better. Now that I've seen the prerelease SharePoint 2013, I'm happy to report that Microsoft hasn't sullied SharePoint with gratuitous or confusing changes.

Architecturally, SharePoint 2013 remains similar to its predecessor. From a visual perspective, you get the more caricatured "Metro" UI that Microsoft is imposing on all its software. But you also get better support for touch-based usage across devices: traditional desktop and laptops, as well as tablets, "laplets," and smartphones. We also get a lightweight UI for mobile browsers that renders in HTML5, along with a classic view for browsers that do not support HTML5 (basically, that means Internet Explorer 8 and earlier).

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Although SharePoint 2013 uses the same service application architecture as SharePoint 2010, new service applications are available, including:

  • Machine Translation Service: This provides automatic machine translation of files and sites. The request for translation isn't done on premises but is forwarded to a hosted service.
  • App Management Service: This lets admins manage SharePoint apps, which you can buy from the SharePoint Marketplace or create yourself and deploy in the Internal App Directory. The service manages the permission settings and ensures the licensing is up to date before letting the user access the app.
  • Work Management Service: This lets users synchronize tasks across Microsoft server tools, such as Exchange, Project, and Lync.
  • PowerPoint Automation Service: Similar to the current Word Automation Service, it takes presentations and converts them into other formats such as HTML and PDF.

In SharePoint 2013, Web Analytics is no longer a service application but part of search. In addition, Office Web Apps is a separate product, so you can use it without having SharePoint in your environment.

The underlying server architecture has been enhanced for greater scalability and better performance, such as with faster disk I/O. New features in Windows Server (for example, AppFabric caching) let SharePoint use the new Distributed Cache Service to handle requests faster. The Shredded Storage feature helps SharePoint parse data in the SQL database so that duplicate elements are avoided -- a big change from how versioning is handled in SharePoint 2010, which stores the entire version of the document. The new approach should result in substantial savings in disk space and backup time.

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