As soon as SharePoint 2013 was released, there was a buzz surrounding the inclusion of an ‘App Store’. Here was a major feature that many had requested for years. Users were increasingly familiar with Apple’s App Store, Google’s Play store, and even the Microsoft Store (which was to really take off with the launch of Windows 8). Many thought such a thing was the perfect addition to SharePoint. So what exactly did Microsoft create and why?

A bit of history

SharePoint has always been a development platform of sorts, and this is partly why it has been such a success in the enterprise environment. Organizations and individuals could add their own code and custom features, making SharePoint fit pretty much any need they had.

In previous versions of SharePoint all custom code was either built as a ‘Sandbox’ solution or a ‘Farm’ solution. Sandbox Solutions were lighter weight, and would only affect a specific site. Farm solutions could have a much bigger impact on a SharePoint system, being as they were deployed for the whole SharePoint farm. 

Microsoft highly recommended using Sandboxed solutions, in order to protect the core SharePoint system. Yet most developers tended to use Farm solutions, as it gave them pretty much unfettered access to develop new features in whichever way they wished.

Whilst Farm solutions are a valid approach, and are still in use today, there are several key problems with this way of working. One is that new functionality and features can only be deployed and created by the IT department (or a technical/developer resource). The other big problem is that having Farm solutions made it difficult to migrate from one version of SharePoint to another. To migrate content from a customized SharePoint 2007 system to a new SharePoint 2010 system, developers also had to redevelop all Farm solutions before the upgrade could begin.

The App Store to the rescue

Microsoft’s answers to these problems was the SharePoint App Store.  By creating an App store for developers to sell new SharePoint components, Microsoft gave business users a means to source new functionality from a more trusted location without having to ask their IT team to build or create it.

The App Store also solved the issue of custom code interfering too much with core SharePoint services, and in turn making migration projects very difficult. A new ‘App model’ means anything in the App Store has been developed in a much more standards compliant and portable manner. Apps can be created using standards like HTML5 and JavaScript, and they can never modify anything on the SharePoint Server itself.

Public and private stores

Not every company would want their users to be able to install new functionality from a public store. To address this issue Microsoft allowed SharePoint to be configured to use either a central public App Store, or a private enterprise specific store.

The private store is known as an ‘App catalog’. It is locked down and managed by a local IT team. It is a way in which the IT department can decide which apps are made available to users. This includes apps created internally or apps pulled (and vetted) from the central public store. 

A useful addition to SharePoint

Microsoft has heavily invested in the App Store idea since the launch of SharePoint 2013. Windows 8 and Windows Phone also make a great play of their own App Stores. The concept provides a great opportunity for third party developers to share useful functionality, as well as a reliable and standards compliant means to extend SharePoint. Ultimately everyone wins.

However you decide to use SharePoint and SharePoint Apps, makes SharePoint use intuitive whether on Mobile or Email. 

Ram Tagher
Product Manager