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The Pros and Cons of SharePoint Modern Sites

SharePoint has seen quite a revival in the last couple of years. There were long standing modern sitesquestions in our organization about the future of SharePoint in light of an ever-expanding set of Office 365 applications. Would SharePoint be relegated to only an online file share behind the scenes of other applications? Clearly, the answer is “no.”
The Microsoft SharePoint team over the last couple of years has invested heavily into the future of SharePoint. This is most evident in the release of what we now call “SharePoint modern sites.” This language is meant to distinguish it from the “classic experience” found in SharePoint 2013/2016, and now many clients are asking us which they should use in their SharePoint implementations. This article will seek to give an overview of the pros and cons of SharePoint modern sites and give insight into how we guide clients today.

The Pros

Let’s talk first about the pros because there are a lot of them that make modern sites very compelling. These pros also give us insight into how Microsoft sees SharePoint maturing both as an application and a platform for development.

  • The first pro that we must articulate is that this is the future of SharePoint. This is true not only in SharePoint Online but also SharePoint on-premises. This means that if you want to use the version of SharePoint that will see improvements over time, modern sites are the way to go.
  • Secondly is the modernization of the interface. The “classic” sites of old use stale layout techniques, typography, and interaction design. In modern sites, the SharePoint team is trying fiercely to modernize the interface and experience.
  • The pro that most affects project budgets is that modern sites are adaptive out-of-the-box. Previous versions of SharePoint didn’t design for a range of devices. We used to spend weeks and weeks making classic sites work across an array of devices. This isn’t necessary anymore.
  • The modern experience is significantly faster than classic sites. In some cases, you may see performance improvements up to 50%.
  • The development model for modern sites uses the SharePoint Framework. This is a new extensibility model focused on client-side development (such as JavaScript). SharePoint development used to be extremely specific and proprietary, but the SharePoint team is also trying to modernize the development experience using more industry-standard practices.
  • You can create web parts using the SharePoint Framework and still use them in classic sites, but it doesn’t work the other way around.
  • Modern SharePoint pages (and news) are supported in the official SharePoint mobile apps. Whether you use a browser or the official app, the idea is that it will look great regardless and with little effort.
  • Applications like Microsoft Teams and Groups provision modern SharePoint sites by default. So most likely whether you use modern or classic sites for your intranet, you will have to work with modern sites on some level.

The Cons
Even with a great list of pros, there are still some important considerations when choosing modern sites.

  • Modern sites are only created as site collections, which means you cannot use a site/sub-site structure. This is a debated topic as of late, but it’s important to remember that features like security inheritance through sub-sites doesn’t exist in the modern site framework.
  • Search is a big sticking point for many clients. While Microsoft really wants to push search results powered by the Microsoft Graph, it’s important to remember that there is basically no extensibility for modern search. This means features like results sources and refiners are not available (at least as of today).
  • The ability to change the interface for modern sites is extremely limited. Currently, you can only add a light theme on top. However, in a classic publishing site, the only limitation was a client’s budget and timeline.
  • Site provisioning (for site templates) is also very immature at this point. This is another point to highlight the general lack of extensibility at this point for modern sites. How much and when this will change in the future is yet to be determined.
  • Currently, the modern site experience is not completely modern. For example, the home page will look like a modern site, but the minute you go into an application (settings) page it looks like a classic site. It’s a disjointed experience at best.

Withum’s Recommendation
Obviously, there are many considerations when picking the best option for your SharePoint usage in a modern or classic experience. While we generally told clients to avoid modern sites due to immaturity for a while, that has changed in the last 6-8 months.

SharePoint modern sites are now at a point that investing in them makes strategic and technological sense. The greatest reason to not use classic sites is that it is currently a platform on life support. If you want to use the feature set that will continue to see investment—use modern sites. This is true whether you are using Office 365 or an on-premises deployment of SharePoint 2016 or the forthcoming 2019. Going forward, we expect almost every client  will use modern sites.

The one thing that you may want to consider using classic sites for is if you have an on-premises deployment, and you require extensive interface customization. Just remember that it will see no future investments from the SharePoint team. Another consideration is search extensibility. If you require a highly customized search experience then classic sites may be an option (while you can technically use a classic search center with modern sites, it’s not a strategic decision).

Final Thought
We fully expect that the current shortcomings in modern sites will be addressed over the coming year by the SharePoint team. Look for more announcements possibly at the SharePoint conference in May, and Withum will continue to assess and update our guidance as the platform matures.


Learn more about Modern Sites – check out our blog on Modern Site Strategies – Designing Pages.


If you have any questions about your SharePoint project or Modern Sites, reach out to us online, or give us a call at 240-406-9960.


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