SharePoint 2013 features: what's new, what's changed and what's gone

Serdar Yegulalp, WinIT

It's not just what's new in any given software product that's important -- it's also what's old and what's being phased out. SharePoint is no different in this respect. Every new version of the program removed features that held the whole product back, or new features replaced old ones.

What's changed in SharePoint 2013 and how should shops deal with it?

Visual upgrade

Earlier versions of SharePoint sported the "visual upgrade" function, which allowed the look and feel of a SharePoint site to be preserved while it was being upgraded. This way, any customizations that were done on the backend could be worked on separately, so by the time the new look and feel were in place, those customizations would work properly.

Visual upgrade has actually been replaced with a better, more comprehensive function called "deferred site collection upgrade." As one of the new SharePoint 2013 features, it allows the user interface from the previous iteration of SharePoint to be used and upgraded on a per-site collection basis rather than a per site basis.

The upgrade also works differently and with far more flexibility. The administrator makes a copy of the site collection in question, upgrades it and previews the changes entirely apart from the original. This way, any changes can be previewed in a live, non-destructive way.

Web analytics

The Web Analytics feature of SharePoint Server 2010 allowed you to collect statistics about your SharePoint deployment, including traffic, searches and inventory, and use those to better determine the major sources of activity. As another one of the new features in SharePoint 2013, the Web Analytics functionality has been folded into a new component called the Analytics Processing Component (APC), which works in conjunction with the search index to generate detailed stats about user behavior. APC runs better than the old Web Analytics system and works with SharePoint Online, which is handy if you plan to migrate your existing SharePoint infrastructure outwards to the cloud.

Note that after an upgrade, your existing Web Analytics statistics databases will remain as is. Microsoft recommends shutting off Web Analytics before performing the upgrade, as well as transitioning to Analytics Processing for all sites, since the data collection used for the latter begins as soon as a SharePoint 2013 site comes online.

Deprecated templates

Many features have been deprecated in SharePoint 2013, and this includes multiple templates. The Document Workspace template has been eclipsed by the Team Site template, the Meeting Workspace template functionality has been eclipsed by other products elsewhere (e.g., Lync and OneNote) and the Personalization template is being dropped due to a lack of use.

Since Microsoft is looking for another way to deal with representing users and groups in a hierarchy, Organization Profiles are also being deprecated and are not being developed further. Note that any SharePoint site using them will continue to use them after an upgrade to 2013, but this is the last version in which they will continue to function.

The Group Work features, however, have been discontinued completely since they were not widely used. Michael Sampson found the Group Work Site hopelessly confusing, which helps explain why few people picked up on it in the first place.

Searching via SQL queries

This deprecated feature in SharePoint 2013 is likely to infuriate a few people. SharePoint Server used to be able to accept search queries in a SQL style of syntax. This is being deprecated entirely in favor of FAST Query Language or Keyword Query Language searches.

The FAST search function itself also has a few features missing, as of SharePoint 2013. The database connector was replaced with the Business Data Catalog indexing connectors, the Lotus Notes connector was replaced with the Lotus Notes indexing connector and the FAST Search web crawler was eclipsed by the generic SharePoint 2013 Preview crawler, which unfortunately lacks a number of features.

Certain features of the FAST language are also supported differently in SharePoint 2013 -- look here for a full rundown.

Imaging Web Service

Originally included for creating and managing picture libraries, the Imaging Web Service never caught on much with end users. It is being removed in the next version of SharePoint, but it's still available and runs as a feature in SharePoint 2013. Anyone still using it is encouraged to work with the client-side object model and WebDAV to replace its functions. It can also be replaced entirely with a third-party product unrelated to SharePoint, such as a content management system, but that might require a bit more overhead and may force people to use a product they do not really want to.

Final thoughts

A smattering of other features have also been removed or deprecated, although most of them are minor and don't constitute major disruptions of functionality. One example: Excel workbooks with external data connections via Excel Services for SharePoint can no longer be edited in the browser. Attempting to edit such files will cause them to open in Excel directly. This is not a major loss of functionality, except for users who don't have Excel installed on their end.

Most of the changes and deprecations in SharePoint Server involve functionality and templates that are either being reworked into other parts of SharePoint or didn't receive enough adoption to justify keeping them around. It's never easy to say in advance what features will be kept or dropped in any software product -- especially Microsoft's -- which is why it always helps to keep a vigilant eye on what comes and goes.

About the author:
Serdar Yegulalp has been writing about computers and information technology for more than 15 years. Check out his blog at GenjiPress.com.

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