Potentially a Play to Extract More Revenue from OneDrive Consumer
Being mostly concerned with the happenings in Office 365, our team doesn’t usually take much notice of developments in the consumer side of Microsoft. However, sometimes developments happen which are worth noting, especially when Microsoft marketing is excited about an announcement. Take January 31 for instance, when the avuncular Mark Kashman handcrafted text to announce the preview of Microsoft Lists for MSA. In other words, you can use your consumer Microsoft account to work with a “lightweight version of the Microsoft Lists app designed for small business and individual use.” All good, if you’re one of first 200,000 Microsoft account holders to head to the preview page to try out lightweight lists on a first-come, first-served basis.
Off I headed to lists.live.com to see what all the fuss was about. And I can report that it is possible to create a Microsoft list using a Microsoft Service account (Figure 1).
The process is painless, won’t kill any brain cells, and works like it does in the enterprise version. At least, it does from the user perspective. Those who do interesting and skillful things with Lists using Power Automate and other tools are likely underimpressed.
During the preview, Microsoft imposes a limit of 50 lists with up to 2,000 items per list. There’s also a 200 MB storage limit per list. That’s more than enough to test things out without doing anything more serious (always a bad idea with preview software).
The Teper View
On LinkedIn, Jeff Teper, who heads up ODSP (OneDrive, SharePoint, and Teams), had his say in another post. He asserts that making Lists available to consumer accounts is the next big technical bet for SharePoint. Under the covers, SharePoint has “user shards” (discrete segments of storage) to support consumer access and needed “a lot of engineering” to support authentication for MSA in addition to Azure AD. Lists for MSA uses a SharePoint MySite, which Teper notes is “just like we use in OneDrive for Business.” Microsoft suppresses the MySite UX, but the functionality is there, which Teper says “gives us a lot of flexibility for the future.”
A Premium Feature
Microsoft seldom undertakes large engineering efforts for zero return. In this case, I expect that, when it’s generally available, Lists for MSA will be a premium feature of OneDrive consumer, like the way that Outlook consumer is available in free and premium versions. In the same way, OneDrive consumers will use a common platform with some UX tweaking to hide or reveal features based on how much they pay. Lists is probably the first of these features, possibly coupled with Nucleus-powered offline capabilities and 100 GB storage (available today for $1.99/month).
Planner and Lists
In terms of Lists in SharePoint Online, an interesting post makes the case that Microsoft should replace Planner with Lists. Or perhaps, replace the underpinnings of Planner with Microsoft Lists (keeping the UX is easy). I don’t agree with the idea.
Planner and Lists are two different entities. In fact, Planner uses Tasks, one of the fundamental entities managed by the Microsoft 365 substrate shared across multiple applications. Lists are more complex objects, well suited for use as a development platform in many circumstances (including by Microsoft, such as the way Lists store Teams webinar information). Although a list can certainly manage a set of tasks, it’s a minor example of the kind of solutions people use Lists for today.
Moving Planner from Tasks (very simple items) to Lists is not straightforward, especially with the impact rippling across multiple applications and UIs. For instance, think of the way you can manage the same tasks through To Do, Tasks by Planner in Teams, and Outlook. If you moved Planner to use Lists, what impact would this have on To-Do and Outlook? The answer is “a lot.”
Over-engineering is as serious a problem as under-engineering, and it seems to me that any attempt to replace the fabric of Planner with Lists is an example of radical over-engineering.
Planner and Project – The One Development Group
There’s no doubt that Lists offers better support for customer-facing APIs today. The lack of application permissions for the Planner Graph API is regrettable, as is the slow pace of development in the Planner app overall when measured against the rest of Microsoft 365. That pace might be because the Project development team is responsible for Planner, and they want to keep clear blue water between Project and Planner.
Holding back Planner to enable Project to prosper might be regrettable but understandable in the context of the Microsoft 365 business. It’s no reason to jettison the Tasks underpinning for Planner and replace it with Lists.
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