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SharePoint Server 2016 To Use Dying Tech

Microsoft provided some info on some of the aged tech that's making its way to next year'sharePoint Server 2016 product.

SharePoint Server 2016 will arrive with a deprecated InfoPath 2013 forms creation technology. In addition SharePoint Server 2016 will require Windows Server AppFabric 1.1, which also is being deprecated. Per Microsoft's definition, "deprecated" software can continue to work. It doesn't exactly mean that the software is dead product. It just means that Microsoft won't perform any further development work on it.

AppFabric for SharePoint 2016
Microsoft's Windows Server AppFabric 1.1 product will lose product support on April 2, 2016. That period is near the same time that Microsoft plans to release SharePoint Server 2016 commercially. Microsoft confirmed at its Ignite conference for IT pros last week that SharePoint Server 2016 will get a "general availability" release in Q2 2016.

Even though AppFabric is becoming "unsupported software" next year, which also means that it will go unpatched, it will still be supported in SharePoint Server 2016, according to a comment made by Bill Baer, senior technical product manager and Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint, during an Ignite session. The paradox wasn't explained.

Update: In a May 13 "Yam Jam" Q&A session, Baer offered this explanation:

Our partner team that develops AppFabric is committed to continued support of AppFabric embedded in server products such as SharePoint, as such AppFabric remains supported with SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint 2016 thru their respective lifecycles. This announcement is specific to standalone AppFabric scenarios.

While AppFabric is maybe a somewhat obscure piece of middleware, the scheduled demise of InfoPath has greater implications for IT shops. Some organizations may have standardized on it or built some company resources using it.

Microsoft has largely stayed mum about its InfoPath plans, except for a January blog post, updated in February. The update clarified that InfoPath 2013 client will be the last supported product of its kind, with an "extended support" end date of April 11, 2023. The Forms on SharePoint Lists product was described as being "cancelled." InfoPath Forms Services, on the other hand, will be included in SharePoint Server 2016 and will be fully supported.

Organizations looking for further guidance about InfoPath's future at Microsoft's Ignite conference apparently did not get it. Microsoft SharePoint MVP Laura Rogers noted in a Twitter post that Microsoft mostly did not mention InfoPath at Ignite, although it was mentioned in a session called, "Proven Ways to Build Robust, No-Code Solutions in Microsoft SharePoint," conducted by Microsoft SharePoint MVPs Jennifer Mason and Asif Rehmani.

InfoPath Alternatives
Mason and Rehmani's session outlined alternative ways to build SharePoint solutions without coding. They outlined some methods using the following solutions:

[Click on image for larger view.] Microsoft forms update. Source: Ignite 2015 session.

The session had lots of good examples, but Mason and Rehmani stopped short of explaining InfoPath's future. It seems from past Microsoft statements that the company is working on ways to use Access and Word for building forms in the next SharePoint, although maybe it's not fully baked.

Rehmani said that "Access is making a comeback in a huge way," which may have been a clue of sorts about Microsoft's forms direction. Rehmani explained that Access web apps for 2013 in its current form is a subset of what InfoPath 2013 could do. Access can be used as a means of simplifying Web development, and it's interactive with SharePoint 2013 or Office 365 services, he explained.

Microsoft's current advice is for organizations to continue to use InfoPath if they are now using it. However, if an organization is starting from scratch, then they should not use InfoPath. Possibly, they should seek the use of third-party solutions, Rehmani explained.

There are various third-party solution alternatives to InfoPath out there. Examples include Ardevia Rich Forms, Formotus, Forms 7 on CodePlex, Infowise Ultimate Forms, K2 SmartForms, Kaldeera Forms, KWizCom Forms, PDF Share Forms, Nintex Forms, SharePoint Forms Designer and Qdabra FormsQuo, among others.

A blog post by Formotus provided additional warning info for InfoPath users experimenting with the Office 2016 preview, which was initially released in March but more broadly released this month. The Office 2016 preview will uninstall InfoPath 2013, according to Formotus' post. Microsoft describes this behavior as a known issue, and it's "by design":

After installing the Office 2016 Preview, you may notice that InfoPath Designer 2013 has been removed from your list of Office applications.  This is by design, Microsoft is will no longer be shipping new versions of InfoPath.

PerformancePoint Lives On
Microsoft's messages regarding InfoPath and AppFabric seem to be somewhat mixed, at least when it comes to their future in SharePoint Server 2016. Meanwhile, Microsoft SharePoint MVP John White noticed that PerformancePoint Services will be getting a new lease on life of sorts. He cited a comment made by Baer at Ignite indicating that PerformancePoint Services will be back ported into SharePoint 2016.

White expressed some skepticism, though, saying that "in terms of new features, I believe that PerformancePoint, much like InfoPath is a dead end." 

Microsoft's lifecycle product support page just lists PerformancePoint Services in SharePoint Server 2010, with extended support ending in October 2020. Microsoft does have PerformancePoint Services for SharePoint Server 2013, but the lifecycle support apparently isn't listed.

Update: Another change to note with SharePoint 2016 will be the loss of a continued SharePoint Designer product. Baer highlighted that point in the May 13 Yam Jam:

"SharePoint Designer will not be shipped with SharePoint 2016," Baer said. "However, SharePoint Designer 2013 can be used with SharePoint 2016."

Baer also noted in the Yam Jam that SharePoint Server 2016 will dispense with its integrated Forefront Identity Manager solution (FIM):

For SharePoint 2016 we've removed the integrated FIM implementation. We'll support uni-directional sync via AD sync in-product in addition to external MIM (Microsoft Identity Manager) for bi-directional sync scenarios. Effectively we've removed the embedded version of FIM and done work to more closely integrate with an external instance.

Microsoft Identity Manager, currently in preview, is the successor product to Forefront Identity Manager, with release expected in the first half of this year.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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