SharePoint Framework - In Eric Overfield's Own Words

This is one installment in a series by Voitanos asking experienced SharePoint developers to share their thoughts on the new development model for SharePoint - the SharePoint Framework. In this series, we ask each person a series of questions and let them share their thoughts.

Eric Overfield

Microsoft Regional Director & MVP, Office Servers and Services
Twitter: @ericoverfield
http://www.ericoverfield.com
President, PixelMill

My name is Eric Overfield, President/Founder of PixelMill as well as Office Servers and Services MVP.

What’s your background as a SharePoint developer?

Began developing SharePoint in about 2007-2008, really focusing on SharePoint 2011. Mainly I've been on the front end side of SharePoint, so really working with master pages, page layouts, et cetera, a little bit of some web part stuff out later on, and now just fully into SharePoint.

How much time have you spent with the SharePoint Framework?

Starting work in the SharePoint Framework I first saw some of the beta bits about June last year, got really excited. It was pretty cool. Since then I've been playing with it more when it came out in preview, definitely got involved, the public preview absolutely. Now the GA, spend as much time with it as I can. It's a pretty cool technology that I'm excited to be working with.

What is your impression of SharePoint Framework today?

The Framework today is in pretty good shape. I like that they went out with GA. I'm really happy they started with web parts. There's a lot of gaps. There are some things missing, but right now I like it, I'm glad they got it out finally into the public, in the public general availability so we'll see where it goes.

What is your impression of the SharePoint Framework roadmap?

I like where Microsoft is saying they're going to be taking the Framework. It's going to grow significantly I expect. That's going to be the major model we're going to use to customize SharePoint. So, all in all, I'm kind of happy with where they plan to take it. There's ... Love to wait and see. I'm sure there's going to be, ask me in three to six months and I might have some new ideas about where they might have been taking it. But if they can deliver what they said it'll be good.

What is your favorite part of the SharePoint Framework?

It's got to be client-side rendering. I'm really excited to see that Microsoft made that leap from the server-side rendering side to the client-side. It's where the web has been moving for a couple of years now. I've been trying to move a lot of my clients there and I'm glad to see that Microsoft to making that a first class citizen shall I say where they're taking it and they're going to say, "Hey, this is the new way that we're going to be providing an interface on top of SharePoint."

What is the one thing you would add to the SharePoint Framework?

Only one thing out, huh? Well, we'll see. I mean right now there's only web parts. There's a lot more that I want to see. Basically, I'd like to see the entire interface of SharePoint move to shall we say the SharePoint Framework which they've sort of been saying they've been hinting at. We'll have to see if that happens or not. There's still that roadmap that I think might change a lot. Generally, though I'd love to see the Framework expand. I'd like to see more than just web parts of course. I'd like to see a lot more control of the interface happen within the Framework itself.

What is the one thing you would change to SharePoint Framework?

Right now what I'd really like to see changed is the toolchain. The toolchain itself being really healthy is going to get compiled when you're building it. This is not the biggest deal. A lot of people are freaking out over this. It's okay. It's all this code. It's like 900 megs I think on a build just to build the web part. But your web part is small. It's just a couple of K. That's okay that it's small, but I wish they would tighten that up. Secondly along that, I really think they need to be shrink wrapping this, or providing a shrink wrap ability where we could have a web part that is tied into very specific dependencies that won't change on us if we said, "Hey, this web part needs these dependencies."

What is the biggest challenge with SharePoint Framework?

The current challenge I see right now is general. It's not adoption. It's learning what this new toolchain is all about. In particular, I'm seeing a lot of resistance with TypeScript which is the primary language that builds, that used to build your web parts. TypeScript is that ability to ... It's a subset in a sense shall we say of JavaScript that allows you to build in a more typed methodology that I think it's transpiled to JavaScript. And that, the developers don't get that. They don't understand that whole methodology. I mean even though it's sort of built for them, it's totally new and totally weird.

That adoption, that learning what the toolchain is all about, learning what NodeJS is, how that works with NPM, and then how web packs get put together is a huge challenge for a lot of people that I ... I'm not concerned about long term. I think we'll get it. The more I teach people how to use it, they're like, "Oh, cool. I like this. This makes sense, and I'm sure we'll see some really good adoption."

Predict the future - Where do you see the SharePoint Framework Going?

Predicting the future is rough with Microsoft, and let's be direct on that one. Six months, 12 months we're pretty set. SharePoint Framework's coming out. They have a roadmap that's pretty short term. All of their new interfaces, the modern UI is all built basically on top of this toolchain. So we know that the Framework short term, six, 12 months is set. Past that I would love to see the Framework be the thing for the next three to five to eight years. I mean I can't predict anything past that. Who knows where web development's going to go.

I think client-side rendering is the way for the future. Five, 10 years, will the Framework be it? That depends on adoption. That depends upon how Microsoft releases the Framework. Don't get me wrong. What they're trying to do is hard. It's not easy. I've been telling everybody I can that we can't expect them to have a perfect product instantly. They need more resources is I think the direct answer to that. 18 months, 24 months I hope that the Framework is widely accepted, I hope it is widely adopted, I hope that it is the new Framework, the new methodology will develop for many years. This is the not going to be just the fourth of five different development technologies. This will be the fourth for a long time.

It will change. We know that. That's okay. Is this going to be something worth learning? Absolutely. I really hope it is. I just would not be ... I'm not the risk me trying to say what's going to happen in the next 18 to 24 months because I really just don't know.

Do you have any Advice or Words of Wisdom?

My first advice has got to be get started now. There's no reason to wait. The Framework is out there. There is really good videos to get started today. The easiest way I know is you go to github.com/sharepoint/pnp. They've got a whole bunch examples. They have this JavaScript special script that they've been building even more examples on the Framework. There's no reason to wait.

Okay, so now that you said I'm going to do this, I'm going to go download the toolchain and get started, now what do you need to do? You're going to need to learn TypeScript. My first two hours of TypeScript is kind of like, "What?" And I like, I'm a pretty good JavaScript programmer I feel. TypeScript was different. As soon as I got over that hurdle, that two hours hurdle, got it, makes sense. Don't be scared of TypeScript. We've always had these new models. This has always happened. There's always change. If you're a programmer you're not willing to change, then you would be stuck in COBOL, you didn't go anywhere. So it's okay to learn a new toolchain. It's okay to learn a new tool set. Don't be scared. I do believe the Framework will be well worth your time and effort if you get started and you jump in. Then just read blogs, get training. Go to YouTube. There's so much good material out there. No reason to not get started today.

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