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It's no secret that previous versions of SharePoint have always been best when used with Internet Explorer (IE) on a Windows PC. SharePoint 2010 provided a much improved experience for non IE users but the reliance on proprietary technologies always ensured other browsers and platforms were going to be left out for much of the party.

SharePoint 2013 brings the most significant step forward in browser support the platform has ever seen. Microsoft, has embraced a standards based approach in all the key areas. Working closely with Microsoft it's been clear they've heard the feedback and really taken it to heart. Stripping out Silverlight, ActiveX and other custom controls wherever possible. Yes, there are still a few IE only features, most of which can't be supported in other browsers or platforms in a standards based way. Here's a few highlights:

Editing in the browser with Office Online (Office Web Apps)

The improvements here bring a number of significant benefits:

  • Massively improved rendering of documents in any browser.
  • Improved feature support so even 'complex' documents now render in the browser.
  • Seamlessly move between the Office Online browser view and the Office rich clients. Read more on the improved Office integration.
  • More editing features are now available in the browser so you don't need to rely on the Office client as often. 

For viewing documents, Office Online is a first class experience. In our experience we prefer it to Google Docs for the most part. Also gone is the need for Silverlight. Many users will still prefer the Office rich client experience but you'll find yourself increasingly using the web based view for document creation and simple editing. Complex documents can still sometimes be a challenge for Office Online and it takes a few seconds to render and edit documents in the browser. Frequently used documents open quickly and without a fuss.

The new document dialog massively streamlines the creation of documents in the browser. All the screenshots below are in browser:

Editing & saving with Word, Excel & PowerPoint (from any browser)

A major shortcoming of SharePoint 2010 was the experience when opening Office documents in Word, Excel or PowerPoint and then saving them back to the site. In browsers other than IE it simply didn't work. Now you can open a document in Chrome, Firefox, IE or Safari and have the documents save directly back to SharePoint. The days of 'opening' documents from SharePoint and wondering why changes to the downloaded file aren't saved back to their site are hopefully banished. 

You'll also notice the document preview using the Office Online apps, and as in SharePoint 2010 you can choose whether to open documents in the Office client or in the browser app by default. If the prevailing behavior for a specific document library is viewing documents then the Office Online browser based view is a great default behavior, it's can be customised for each document library. 

Adding files with drag & drop (uploading)

Previously, uploading multiple files required an IE only ActiveX control, this is no longer the case. Now you simply drag your files (one or many) into the document library. This works in any modern browser (IE 10 or above is required for this HTML 5 feature). 

Sync files with your computer or device (OneDrive for Business)

It's a familiar concept if you've used Dropbox, G drive or OneDrive before. Sync your documents with Windows, iOS or Mac (coming very soon). The OneDrive name is really all this service shares with the consumer OneDrive, it's all SharePoint under the covers. That does a mean few limitations apply such as file name restrictions from SharePoint do apply. While these are handled fairly gracefully you'll need to avoid ampersands and other irregular characters in your file and folder names, you're also limited to a certain depth of folders and 5000 files (per document library). One other minor criticism is the 'for business' moniker which isn't ideal for a K-12 environment. The Sync buttons work in all browsers we've tested in.

The simplest way to use OneDrive is with the Sync button from the ribbon on document library pages. 

Open with Explorer (it's still IE only)

Opening with Windows Explorer is still an Internet Explorer only feature, although you can make it work on any Windows computer with a bit of patience. The combination of drag & drop, and OneDrive Sync mean this is not the problem it used to be. Even when it worked, the underlying WebDAV technology for Explorer view has always been a pain to support and it's never been a user friendly protocol.
 

Editing Lists

The IE only ActiveX Datasheet view is gone, replaced with Quick Edit. This greatly simplifies bulk editing of lists in any browser. There are still a few quirks copying and pasting data in some browsers, but it's now almost a pleasure to bulk edit items or paste data from a spreadsheet.

Photos

Also worthy of note are the improvements to SharePoint's Picture Library. It's the same in all the browsers we've thrown at it.

Exporting lists to Excel

Exporting data uses the same basic mechanism as SharePoint 2010. It downloads a connection file which Excel can recognises. In non IE browsers you'll receive a prompt but the file is still delivered. It's worth noting that Chrome actually displays the text of the file which you can then save. Upon opening the file you'll need to trust the data connection and potentially login to access the data.

Authentication and the Bigger Picture

While we've focused on the desktop experience here, many of the benefits carry over to the mobile and tablet. It's also an area where we've significantly improved the experience over the native SharePoint 2013 functionality, but that's a discussion for another day.

Browser support is only one part in giving users a great experience, the authentication and infrastructure setup are also a critical component of the overall experience. There's two key components to that, the first of which is automated domain authentication for browsers and secondly a replacement for Microsoft Threat Management Gateway which is something we're working on! If you've configured automatic authentication you won't see many of the security prompts in IE and Chrome required to access and open your sites, or enable Lync and other presence features.

Summary

Ultimately the goal for any application is just to work the way users expect it to. With a few exceptions that is now the case in far more situations than previous versions of SharePoint. 

The move away from ActiveX and Silverlight and towards HTML 5 does mean you'll need a modern browser to take advantage of the improvements. It's important to note that Internet Explorer 8 and 9 don't fully support HTML 5 so won't support some features such as drag and drop.

It's also worth noting that Office 2013 is an important part of the overall experience, although most of the improvements also work with Office 2010 or Office for Mac 2011.

Further Reading