SharePoint Classic vs Modern Experience [Comparison]

SharePoint Classic vs Modern Experience [Comparison]

SharePoint is a web-based collaborative platform from Microsoft that can be used to store and share content with others. Users can manage, collaborate, and access documents and other resources simultaneously.

This platform has existed for two decades, but the modern experience was only introduced in 2016.

Classic SharePoint is the legacy framework. A lot of organizations still use the old one, though because of the introduction of the new experience and Microsoft’s clear intention of focusing on it, a lot of people have been transforming old sites into modern equivalents.

Modern SharePoint, on the other hand, visibly looks better and performs faster. It definitely has a “modern” look to it, considering how it was built to seamlessly work on mobile. As of now, all new sites have the modern experience by default.

In this article, we are going to dig deeper into how the classic and modern SharePoint experience differs from each other.

Site Changes

In the past, there were different types of websites in the classic experience. Today (in the modern SharePoint experience), that number is reduced to only two, which are the following:

  1. Team
  2. Communication (Publishing)

Let’s go through each type and see how each one differs in the classic and modern experience.

Team Sites

A team site is made for team collaboration — users can share data and information and even work with files simultaneously using different devices.

The most obvious difference between classic and modern team sites is how they look.

This is an example of how a classic team site looks:

SharePoint classic team site

But when you create a team with the modern experience, this is what you get:

Modern SharePoint team site

As you can see from the image above, aside from the design overhaul, you will also see a quick launch menu on the left-hand side pane. Modern team sites follow the Office 365 Group Site template, where you can immediately open various apps from the site.

The quick launch menu enables the users to write tasks, set up the calendar, make announcements, and so on. There is also a shared workspace for files, calendars, and conversations that is accessible to the internal tea.

This feature is absent with classic team sites.

Another thing is that changing the theme in a modern team site is easy. Before (with the classic experience), you would need coding skills to change even minute details like the logo, color theme, navigation, and others.

But as you can see below, changing those options is as easy as selecting from a lot of choices:

How to change the theme of a SharePoint modern team site

In addition, if you want to change the content in the modern team site, you can easily do so. On the home page alone, you will see news, links, and files upload, lists, and others. Sharing news and posts is as easy as creating one on Facebook.

In the classic experience, most things that you need to do will open up another page (in order to complete the task that you want to do). With modern team sites, most changes are done within the page and updates in real-time.

Communication (Publishing) Sites

A publishing portal in the old experience and a communication site in the modern experience is created for the same reason — to share important information like news, reports, and updates, to people within the organization (on a large scale).

Here is how the old publishing portal looks like:

How a SharePoint publishing portal looks like

Besides looking outdated, a publishing portal is hard to maintain and update. It usually requires someone who knows how to code to make significant updates. In this era, publishing portals don’t do really well since they are not mobile responsive.

In the modern SharePoint experience, there are two templates that you can use to create a communication site:

  1. Topic (for news, events, and other topics)
  2. Showcase (for sharing information using visuals and graphics)
  3. Blank (a blank template)

Here is an example of a communication site built with the topic template:

Modern communication site

Fortunately, communication sites look really good. These are dynamic pages that don’t need a coding experience, like a team site, to edit and update. All communication sites are mobile responsive, which means they still look even when viewed on a mobile device.

The search function is also improved in the new modern experience. When you type, you will see recommended search results based on your history. The results are also personalized based on your recent activity.

Lists and Libraries

Lists and libraries are important in any platform that lets you create, publish, and share content. Without them, content management systems like SharePoint would not exist.

As you can expect, the list and library interface in the modern SharePoint experience looks better, performs faster, and easier to use. For instance, downloading multiple files at once, or even an entire folder, is as easy as copying files using Windows Explorer.

You can also pin documents easily to the top and even change the file information quickly.

Here is how the list and library interface looks like in a modern SharePoint experience:

How the modern list and library interface in SharePoint looks like

Now, the list and library interface of a classic SharePoint experience isn’t really that bad. However, the difference in power and convenience is noticeable. Using the classic interface, you will not be able to copy, move, or download files all at once easily.

This is how it looks like:

How the classic list and library interface in SharePoint looks like

It’s also worth noting that the modern list and library interface will let you use Power Automate, which is a tool that will enable you to automate processes or workflows. Using this will enable you to connect data sources and share them with teams quicker.

Mobile Experience

The discussion in regards to the mobile experience between the two deserves its own spot. Nowadays, the number of smartphone users, according to Statista, is already close to four billion.

Many of those are Microsoft users who need to check in with their SharePoint sites to view, edit, and create content.

Unfortunately, the total SharePoint classic experience is really bad on mobile. All pages and interfaces associated with the old experience are not mobile responsive.

For example, a class team site, when viewed on mobile, doesn’t shrink or resize according to the viewing port of the screen. It looks just like when you are viewing the page on a desktop, which means you will have to zoom in/out and scroll from side to side.

Here is how the exact screen from above looks like when transformed into the new modern experience:

You do not have to worry about the mobile experience when it comes to the modern experience. In fact, everything is built with mobile devices in mind. Everything — pages and interfaces — look like native mobile applications when viewed on mobile.

Everything else is smooth in the modern experience. Even Office mobile apps like OneNote, PowerPoint, Word, and Excel, work seamlessly with the SharePoint application that will enable you to work on your documents using your mobile device.

Office 365 Groups Integration

The ultimate game-changer that separates the classic experience from the modern experience is the integration with Office 365 Groups. Before, classic SharePoint team sites (since team sites are the ones with Office 365 integration), are like a catch-all platform.

Now, you can work with various services within a modern SharePoint team site including:

  • Exchange Calendar
  • OneNote
  • Yammer
  • Stream
  • Planner

The Planner tool is unique to the modern experience. It is a kanban board productivity tool that your team can use to manage projects all without leaving SharePoint.

Here is how it looks:

Planner within a modern team site

Others work more or less the same with the classic experience. Before, you can upload videos to the library and others can download them. Now, with the Stream feature, users can view and share your content across the organization.

The gist here is that with the modern experience, users can collaborate with each other without even leaving SharePoint since Office 365 Groups is now integrated.

Pages and Web Parts

The classic experience comes with a lot of web parts and pages including blog pages and wiki pages. Unfortunately, for the same reasons told in the earlier sections, the experience isn’t really that great.

Add the fact that customizing each of them requires a lot of coding.

Here is how the page editor looks like in the classic experience:

Classic experience page editor

When it comes to the modern experience, the improvement is vast. Modern web parts and pages, even those with existing old experience counterparts, are definitely better in terms of performance, appearance, customization, and functionality.

Here is how the modern page editor looks like:

Modern experience page editor

Using the page editor in the modern experience feels like using a page editor on modern-day content management systems (like WordPress). To add a web part, all you need to do is click on it and do the customization.

In addition, a lot of new parts have been added, especially ones related to modern applications and websites. For example, you can add sections like Asana, Google Analytics, Kindle Instant Preview, Salesforce, and many others.

SharePoint Classic vs Modern

With recent improvements, the SharePoint experience had come a long way. Since Microsoft launched the platform in 2001, there haven’t been many updates until they published the new experience in 2016.

Of course, if you still prefer the classic experience, Microsoft hasn’t really pulled the plug, at least not yet. You can still create sites with the classic experience, though most of the settings are modernized.

But all the default settings and options are saying one clear thing — modernization is the future.

If you need any help in regards to SharePoint pages, classic or modern, feel free to leave a comment below or send me a direct message via the contact page.

About Ryan

As the Principal Solutions Architect at Mr. SharePoint, I help companies of all sizes better leverage the Modern Workplace and Digital Process Automation investments.

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