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Microsoft has quietly dropped the SharePoint Online Public Websites feature, giving existing Office 365 and SharePoint Online users access for another two years.
New users who subscribe to Office 365 after the changeover date will not have access to this feature. They won't get a reduced price, either. Those users must access Public Websites through third party providers, either those suggested by Microsoft or those they choose.
Third-party solutions will be offered at discounted pricing rates for Office 365 customers where available, according to Microsoft's Support page. .
Some long-time Microsoft IT professionals are not surprised, saying either they never considered using the capability and/or were not aware of many other enterprise users who used it.
"I deal with a lot of larger shops that have invested heavily in SharePoint, but they don’t use this feature much," said Mike Drips, a solutions architect with WiPro Inc. in Houston. "These are shops who can easily afford something like this, but if even they aren’t buying into it, where is its value to an enterprise?"
But for those who have invested time and money in developing public facing web sites and store significant amounts of data, there could be financial pain, as well as the pain of finding qualified third party providers capable of offering the same support as Microsoft.
"For small shops it will be a pain, but even larger ones will have to start shopping around, bring in a dozen smaller providers with their dog and pony shows to see if they can make it [public web sites] look the same and properly support it," Drips said.
The company confirmed the change in a Knowledge Base article published late last week.
Microsoft said it will provide existing SharePoint Online Public Website users at least one year of notice before the company makes any significant changes to the Office 365 service. However, all content and data migration must be completed by users. Company officials are advising users now to backup all content and data before switching over to any new service provider.
Company officials emphasized that it will help users access third party tools and services to build and manage their "online presence." Microsoft said additional information about third party solutions won’t be available until sometime next month.
The current Public Website feature, according to Microsoft, is designed for users who only want a basic online presence. The new solutions will feature tools that are "more robust" that will produce a "fuller" online presence.