SharePoint 2016 Preview Released – A First Look at Branding

Exciting news on the SharePoint 2016 front, Microsoft announced the availability of the public preview for SharePoint 2016 yesterday. Check out Bill Baer’s post on the Office 365 blogs regarding the release including where you can go to download the preview if you want to learn more.

Wait, why should you need the download link? You mean you haven’t been refreshing the Office 365 blog every hour over the last week, eagerly awaiting the latest news? Then you didn’t stay up all last night installing the Preview and digging into all of the nuts and bolts of the next version of SharePoint? Ah, you have a life outside of SharePoint, bummer.

As I am not in that camp, I dutifully downloaded and installed the Public Preview. All in all the install went very smoothly on my local VM. If you want to see what the install process looks like, check out a few of the following blog posts. What’s new in SharePoint 2016: A Feature Overview or SharePoint 2016 installation first look.

What was of the most interest to me is the branding options available in SharePoint 2016, at least as of now. The big news? Drum roll please…

Nothing new.


I can’t say I am surprised as the message from Microsoft has been that SharePoint 2016 is being built cloud first. What this means to me is that what we see over on Office 365 is essentially the same thing we should expect to see in SharePoint 2016. The only primary branding differentiation I have seen over on Office 365 is the new Suite Bar with the App Launcher. As expected, this new suite bar has made its way into SharePoint 2016.

What else is the same? Well, everything, at least what I have seen thus far. The same Master Pages (seattle, olso, v4 even), Page Layouts, Display Templates, Composed Looks, the same file locations, the same Site Templates, the same layouts on primary Site Templates. Don’t get me wrong, SharePoint 2016 has quite a bit to offer, but not in branding. Right now this appears more of an IT Pro upgrade. The only real difference I have seen is that the register controls now reference the version binaries in the Global Application Cache (GAC) instead of the SP 2013 version 15.0.0. binaries. Also expected as we have seen this for a while in SharePoint Online.


You might be wondering about SharePoint Designer access as I was. After installation and loading my first site collection in a browser, this was my next test. Don’t forget that in May, Microsoft gave notice at Ignite that there would not be a SharePoint Designer 2016. SharePoint Designer 2013 does work fine for SPO, so my concern was would SPD 2013 work with SharePoint 2016. I can say without a doubt that as of now, yes, SharePoint Designer 2013 can in fact load and manipulate sites created in at least the SharePoint 2016 Preview (see screenshot above). Great news, let’s see if this is continued to be supported through the official release.

The public release of SharePoint 2016 is not scheduled until sometime in the May 2016 timeframe. That gives Microsoft plenty of time to provide new branding tools baked into SharePoint. I have no knowledge of anything that may be coming but let me offer you my thoughts. As SharePoint 2016 is being driven by the cloud, it is safe to assume that any new branding tools will likely appear in SharePoint Online first. This could include any type of replacement for Master Pages and Page Layouts, any new type of composed looks, themes or even display templates. I would take this as far saying a completely new branding environment is possible, maybe the new system coming with NextGen Portals? Yes, I think so.

What this also tells me is that if you are looking to embark on branding SharePoint 2013 or SharePoint Online, it is a safer bet than it used to be that your branding will migrate to SharePoint 2016 with minimal if any extra effort! More great news!

The bad news is that as of yet there is no answer from SharePoint 2016 on embedded responsive design or additional mobile friendly HTML/HTML5 layouts. Still nothing on a new external development tool to replace SharePoint Designer, but if we keep access with SharePoint Designer 2013, we should be ok for at least the next version of SharePoint.

My conclusion is that this is the first new version of SharePoint that does not offer new branding tools, but you know, I am ok with that for now. Keep your eye on NextGen Portals, I think this will be the answer we are looking for. For now, SharePoint 2016 looks like a good ITPro upgrade, which should be ok for front end developers. The hybrid options look amazing, the improved architecture is an improvement. I really like the zero downtime upgrading / patching. We must wait to see what happens to the frontend for now, if anything.


  1. “ binaries in the Global Application Cache (GAC)”

    GAC = Global Assembly Cache, just for the record since a number of eager folks read this blog and take every word written as writ.

  2. Hello Eric
    Don’t you think sharepoint is maybe becoming a kind of “back end”. Providing lots of feature around collaboration and social data. And Branding will only be done on custom, device ready, front ends apps ?

    • Yes, it does appear as though SharePoint is going that way. SharePoint is / will be more of a service that provides the datastore for other processes. I.e NextGen Portals. For the collaboration tools aspect, minimal branding is the way to go. This is kind of a shame though for some scenarios as SharePoint has worked well as a highly customized Intranet portal and a powerful public frontend WCM as well.

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