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What is the Unified Interface for Dynamics 365

Unified Interface uses a responsive web design to make sure that Dynamics 365 is portable so that records and forms reflow whether being viewed on a large screen or a small mobile device.

This reflects the same responsive principles seen in websites that are rendered for optimal viewing and interaction across any screen size, orientation or device.

Why has the Unified Interface been introduced?

The new UI has been developed to address the inconsistent experiences that users have encountered when using Dynamics 365 across different devices and screens.

From using Dynamics within a desktop browser, on a mobile app, or accessing records in Outlook, many have commented on the divergence between these experiences.

One reason for this is that the classic web interface contains various constructs which couldn’t translate well across other clients.

And another driver of change is Dynamics trend to becoming ever more app-centric. With increasingly connected and diverse app modules being implemented to handle different work-streams it is essential that apps only need to be designed once, quickly deployed and shared across clients rather without needing to develop and maintain multiple forms for each device or screen.

Microsoft’s answer has been to introduce the Unified Interface.

How is the new UI structured?

To ensure a consistent experience across clients, a fundamental part of the Unified Interface structure is the PowerApps Control Framework.

Essentially, this a layer that sits on top of Dynamics forms that enables custom controls to be built. Some examples of custom controls include dials, switches and sliders which are designed to provide greater visualisations across forms for entering data.

Within the Unified Interface every control, be it a text box, a calendar, or these switches and dials, will be built using the PowerApps Control Framework. Through this PCF, developers and partners are provided with a new framework to design, build and deploy custom functionality in Dynamics 365. 

What else is new?

Other aspects of the Unified Interface include embedded interactive dashboards across all devices including mobile. As a result, embedded Power BI dashboard can be accessed from within Dynamics 365 on a mobile device.

Visual filters help users interpret dashboards and list views before drilling down into the data.

Among the many navigation changes, users are able to dock or pin guided process flows so that these remain on screen when users navigate to other areas of the record form including form tabs. 

The return of form tabs and the addition of related items simplifies navigation to reduce clicks enabling users to quickly find detail which can include contextual records. 

When records are opened from a list view, a new control enables users to open an additional panel and scroll through other records in the list.

A new timeline control replaces the activity / notes panel that features new filters and visualisations that help users navigate record notes, posts, emails and tasks.

Through a new reference panel, users are able to access contextual information by switching between sub grids without clicking away from records or launching pop-ups. For example, on a contract record use the reference panel to toggle between related cases, open opportunities and entitlements.

Further improvements include custom controls within process flows and Office 365 style profile cards.

Crucially, the most recent enhancements are exclusively being released for the Unified Interface and won't be available within the classic web interface.

What is Microsoft's plan for the Unified Interface?

Microsoft’s goal is to make the Unified Interface the primary, and only client interface for all Dynamics 365 customer engagement apps.

This was first released in v9.0 and it is now the default interface for the Dynamics App for Outlook, Dynamics mobile app and for all new Dynamics 365 app modules.

Unified Interface represents the future for developing Dynamics 365 and it will ultimately replace the classic web interface. For the April 2019 update, Microsoft declared this is now the 'mainline experience' and announced further capabilities that will only be accessible within the Unified Interface.

How does the Unified Interface work with the classic web Interface?

If you have implemented or upgraded to Dynamics 365 v9.0, you already have access to the Unified Interface in a desktop browser but for the majority of desktop users this has yet to be enabled.

In v9.0 and v9.1, Unified Interface co-exists with the classic web interface for existing Online customers. Upon upgrading to v9.0 most administrators opted to deploy a refreshed version of the regular web interface rather than activating the new experience.

That’s because several functionality gaps have existed between the old and new interfaces. Commands such as advanced find, merging records and bulk edits weren't available in the initial Unified Interface roll out which proved an obvious barrier to adoption. These gaps have closed as Microsoft releases updates to fix issues and introduce new capabilities.

While the classic web UI and new experience currently co-exist, Microsoft has signalled that at some future point it will switch off this side by side arrangement and migrate all customers to the Unified Interface.

When will the classic web UI be deprecated?

Microsoft has yet to release any time-frame for the deprecation of the classic web interface.

Telemetry is increasingly used by Microsoft to better understand how users are interacting with the product and this will certainly be crucial in determining when the legacy interface will be deprecated based on adoption of the new UI.

In the short term, for the v9.1 release there isn’t any change and the regular web interface remains available.

Microsoft has stressed it will provide ample notice to remaining customers before it removes the classic web interface. 

However, rather than any deadline set by Microsoft driving this migration we are already seeing early adopters migrating to the Unified Interface having concluded that it offers a superior user experience.

This will be further enhanced with upcoming releases and while in 2018 we saw functionality gaps in the Unified Interface, this situation is reversed as more functions are exclusively added to the new UI.

What are Hybrid Experiences?

To address some of the functionality gaps highlighted above, Microsoft has used using hybrid experiences.

Advanced Find was added to Unified Interface last year and running this has been one example of a hybrid experience. Selecting this command from the main Dynamics toolbar opens up the classic interface to display to define search terms.

However, clicking an item in the search results will always open records in the new Unified Interface. As a result, the legacy experience is strictly contained and won’t leak to other functions such as when records are viewed.

More recently, Microsoft has previewed a new experience for Advanced Find.

How should I prepare for the Unified Interface?

For existing Dynamics 365 users currently working with the regular web interface the new experience is a significant change and migration to this interface should be careful planned.

Firstly, consider the different use cases in your business. Each work-stream can have its own specific Dynamics 365 app and user experience so consider which aspects of the Unified Interface, including custom controls, can best be utilised for these requirements.

To gain familiarity with custom controls and other aspects of the new experience, you can take a closer look within your non-production environment.

Also, some functions and plug-in's that you currently use may not be supported in the new experience. The legacy Dynamics CRM Contracts entity is one example of this.

Speak to Preact, to learn more about the Unified Interface and how best to utilise its new capabilities including embedded PowerApps. We'll help you plan your migration that includes user training on the new experience.

Please get in touch if you want to know more, or to get advice on enabling the Dynamics 365 Unified Interface