Thursday, 4 June 2015

They Reminisce Over You: SharePoint Designer

I remember when I worked in a corporate setting where SharePoint Designer wasn't allowed. At the time I believed SharePoint Designer was this allusive thing that I absolutely needed to make my already pimped out site more pimp. After a change in governance, it became available to the masses. After eagerly installing it, the disappointment set in. I realized I could already do so much of what SharePoint Designer could through the browser.

Announced at the end of this year's Ignite conference, SharePoint Designer will be going away with the next release of SharePoint. I'm not surprised SharePoint Designer is going the way of the dodo. I actually predicted this last year. Across the internet you'll find a lot of users harping on Microsoft to create a web-based forms solution in lieu of InfoPath. I doubt we'll have a choir singing with the same intensity for a SharePoint Designer replacement.

In my six years using SharePoint, I've used SharePoint Designer quite a bit. But seldom was it essential to my work. The only time was it essential was when third party products were not available.

Not to over generalize, but I think SharePoint Designer use cases typically fall into two categories: workflow and lightweight development.

From a workflow perspective, it was stunning how some functionality was removed in SharePoint Designer 2013. In fact, most of the SharePoint 2013 known issues detail problems with SharePoint Designer. While I'm aware that not every organization may want to purchase third party tools, the fact is that they do so much more and are so much better than what's possible in SharePoint Designer. Often in SharePoint Designer you find yourself spending more time engineering a workaround to a limitation of the product than the rest of the development lifecycle.

For power users wanting to cut their teeth with branding, a custom web part, or custom ASPX forms, SharePoint Designer prior to 2013 allowed users to design and develop these objects in real-time right in the application. In fact it was through design view that I really cut my teeth in working with custom forms and JavaScript. I'll always remember that because that was the precipice for me as to when I started to get deep with SharePoint. But once the functionality was removed to the chagrin of many in 2013, I knew I couldn't be sentimental and grovel. It doesn't do well for me and my clients if I dwell on functionality a previous release had and long for the good ol' days of SharePoint Designer.

I hope that the death of SharePoint Designer leads to two things:

1. An end to all jokes involving the words "SharePoint Destroyer"

2. Better third party products

Good governance should prevent the phrase <cringe> "SharePoint Destroyer" </cringe> from ever becoming a reality. Reality is it can make things snafu, but you can also make things snafu without the product.

I think there is the potential to create a web-based product like SharePoint Designer. There's major players in the forms and workflow fields, but the loss of SharePoint Designer may create a need in the marketplace for new apps that can do what SharePoint Designer did. Along those lines, I'm curious if the hidden web service SharePoint Designer uses will still be available for sly developers to use in SharePoint 2016.

SharePoint Designer did not define what was possible to do with SharePoint. I used SharePoint Designer because I didn't have to crack open Visual Studio or know code and could do slightly more than I could out of the box. In many ways, not having SharePoint Designer for so long made me better with SharePoint because I had to try novel ways to create solutions.

I can't hate on SharePoint Designer too much. I'll reminisce it for a spell because I know I've done some cool stuff with it and I'll miss the comical errors it throws, but those projects do not and will not define me and my work. We shape our tools, therefore our tools shape us. Let's continue to shape SharePoint into an even better tool so we can be better.