Beware of the SharePoint 2013 Apps!

I wanted to expand on Joe Capka’s post: $50 SharePoint Expert or ‘Why SharePoint Projects Fail’ and how this will relate to the new SharePoint 2013.

I agree with his point of view, a lot. I’ve worked with self proclaimed SharePoint experts, and have interviewed many SharePoint ‘Architects’ who are anything but. A .Net developer with a couple years of experience does not make one an Architect, or even an Expert. Joe explained “SharePoint is a complex animal and is much more than Web Parts and Workflows”, and it is.

Now let me crudely connect that to my point.

I think we need to be studious and aware of the new ecosystem within SharePoint 2013, specifically the new app model. We’re about to experience something new to SharePoint: the app store.

The market place concept itself isn’t new, Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone has had this for years, giving users the ability to extend their device into doing more (bringing pleasure, improving performance, increasing productivity, etc.). This idea is now available for SharePoint. There has always been this broader ‘marketplace’ available, buy from a site, and upload into SharePoint. Nothing as tightly integrated as it is now.

Everyone is excited, and is selling this as an easy no-brainer:  .Net developers can simply develop for SharePoint using its REST API. This is true, SharePoint’s REST API has been greatly improved, I wish it was this good for 2010. The latest versions of Visual Studio (a developer’s primary tool set) has even more SharePoint compatibility and options. It really is painstakingly easy now to develop an app for 2013 in comparison to a solution for 2010.

Why is this a concern?

Developers can now create apps as they see fit, not as the app fits.

Don’t believe me? Search for something on your device’s store. Keep it slightly generic, don’t go after a brand name. You’ll find several apps that all do the same thing. Each one slightly different, but most of them are too similar to tell them apart.

Searching for weather on Windows 8 Store yielded 1,021 results:

Search weather on Windows 8

The iPad boasts a whopping 2,402 results:

searching iPad Weather

As a developer, I would not create another weather app, it’s overkill, but yet 2390 iPad developers thought the first 12 made weren’t good enough.

Now imagine the same idea on SharePoint:

Searching for a weather app and you get a dozen, or if it gets as popular as above, thousands of different apps. Let’s say searching for a vacation request app comes up with 10 options, that’s 9 more than you need. Let’s face it, you only need one app. What is an admin to do? Well, chances are he’ll download a handful of the higher rated, popular apps that look close to what he wants, and test each one out. Just like we do on our devices. Ug…

Haymarket in Boston

Reminds me of Haymarket Square here in Boston. Several vendors all selling the same thing, at nearly the same price. It can be a lot of work to find an apple since there are dozen vendors available to choose from.

I’m not a Scrooge!

I’m a firm believer that this new marketplace has potential to improve SharePoint. I like the new app model, and can’t wait to get a few apps under my belt. However, I’m highly skeptical on the experience we’re going to see by the end of 2013 (the year, not the version).

Is there a way around this?

Not that I can see, it’s the nature of the beast.

There will be some brand recognition I’m sure. For example, I have used and recommended some existing SharePoint products like Bamboo and Axceler. If I search the store and come up with 10 results, and see a name I recognize then that makes it easier. A seasoned SharePoint admin might get lucky with this route.

Otherwise, like your iPad, you rely on the feedback of other users’ ratings, but with a market place as young as 2013’s will be, how reliable are those?

So I’m stuck with the app store?

Yes, unless you want to turn it off. But why should we have to turn off a great feature of SharePoint?

With all this said, I haven’t had a lot of hands on experience with the market place in SharePoint 2013. I plan to in the coming weeks. Here’s what I’m hoping we can do:

  • Any good SharePoint admin has a staging farm. If you don’t, get one. Regardless of the apps, a separate non-production farm has a long list of benefits.
  • Use this farm to download and test the apps. Find the ones you want to use, and have your end users test the apps as well.
  • Once something looks promising, then download it to your production farm. Or better yet, you have your enterprise marketplace setup (a local instance of a marketplace for your enterprise only), and you upload it to your marketplace.

I hope within the next couple of weeks to test out this process and see if it’s viable. If not, we’ll revisit this and hope for a better solution.

What do you think?

Happy SharePointing!

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