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New app model — a world of opportunity for SharePoint and its developer community

If you consider the first real app store to be that of Apple, then it's been about four years coming for SharePoint to jump on the app bandwagon. It's not really surprising that, given the complexities of the work that is currently done in the enterprise, it's taken some time. Angry Birds is fantastic, but are you going to compare that to the work your organization does? It's a whole new ball game.

So what does this new world look like? What can we expect?

Well, first off, let me explain what the new application development model is. The new SharePoint 2013 app model is a lot like the Apple app store. You buy and install apps for your on-premise or cloud based SharePoint 2013 instance from the SharePoint Office store. These apps extend the capability of the platform in some way. There is no server-side code that is executed by the SharePoint Server and anyone can create an app (anyone who would normally create a standard web application using technologies like HTML, CSS3, REST and JavaScript). There are no specific SharePoint development skills you need to create an app.

All apps go through a Microsoft vetting process (although, no one seems sure what this process looks like, or how long it might typically take to get apps approved).

There are three app deployment models — SharePoint-hosted, self-hosted, and automatically provisioned Azure web applications (too long to describe in this blog, but I'd advise you to check them out).

So at a very high level, that's what the model looks like,  but what does it mean for the SharePoint community?

It means a few things.

First, it's a real opportunity for the world's 700,000 SharePoint developers to expose their skill. It might also make them some money (you get to determine how much you charge for your app).  Also, because of the ease by which an app can be created, it opens it up to developers who wouldn't have typically waded into the world of SharePoint development. I think this is great for SharePoint. I'm a strong believer in crowd-sourcing and this open market approach will benefit all of us.

Some don't love the strict process that it takes to release an app in Apple's app market, but I like that Microsoft is vetting these apps before releasing them. It's absolutely critical that we don't allow poorly crafted apps into the platforms we use to run our businesses. It's one thing to have a app crash on your phone. It's an entirely different thing when it happens to the application you're using to access your financial or HR data. In any case, the app model ratings system combined with the Microsoft vetting process should be able to effectively cut the wheat from the chaff.

How are the ISVs and the SharePoint partner community  going to fare? I'm not too concerned.  The app model doesn't lend itself to everything and Microsoft is leaving the option for customizations to be made to SharePoint without going through the app model. Given this, it remains to be seen what the app model will look like in the coming months and years. For example, will it be full of really lightweight widgets that hold little benefit for the consumer? Is it going to be difficult to find more complex applications that cater to the enterprise? What will the prices be like? How are apps supported longer term? Are updates provided by the application authors directly through the store or pushed automatically to your instance? These are just some of the things yet to be sorted.

Finally, what does this mean for the customizations I have on my existing SharePoint 2010 deployment? Nothing really. Full trust farms and sandboxed solutions work and will continue to be supported. The app model simply provides a new alternative for application development.

Ultimately, the devil is in the details, but I like the new approach. I think it exposes SharePoint to a whole new group of developers and the market will determine who comes out on top. This  should benefit everyone from the developers, to the partner and ISV community, and most importantly the consumer.

Who knows? I might start being able to tell my clients "There's an app for that", sooner than later.

And that's not a bad thing.