Microsoft Officially Axes SharePoint Online's Public Website Tool

An obscure Microsoft support article from December confirms that the company plans to remove the Public Website feature from its SharePoint Online service offerings.

New SharePoint Online customers won't get the feature if they sign up after this month, according to the notice. Existing SharePoint Online customers will see the Public Website feature disappear after two years. In its place, existing SharePoint Online customers will have the option of working with Microsoft's partners to use "third-party" alternatives.

The Public Website feature was mostly designed for smaller and midsize organizations, providing a way for them to quickly establish a Web presence. Microsoft's support article promised that the third-party alternative services to come will enable management of a "fuller online presence" with "more robust tools and solutions."

One catch for current SharePoint Online customers right now is that Microsoft hasn't announced which partnering companies will offer those alternatives. That information will be added to the support article at an unspecified future date. Also, the exact "changeover date" when Microsoft will give notice that it will stop offering the Public Website feature hasn't been announced yet. Microsoft is only saying now that the policy change will take effect sometime this month.

No general public notice of these changes is planned. Microsoft will inform its customers directly that the change is in effect via the Message Center of Office 365, which is typically accessed by IT pros managing the Office 365 service. That notification approach was described by Ian Hammeroff, a director of product marketing for Office 365, per a news story by veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley. Hammeroff also affirmed to Foley that Microsoft isn't using its Office 365 "roadmap" page to indicate the deprecation of existing online services. The roadmap is a publicly accessible Web site that shows what Microsoft is planning for Office 365 services, but it's apparently only there to show new feature changes.

Microsoft's support article suggested that organizations currently using the Public Website feature should plan a future move of their Web site files before the two years are up to avoid potential data loss. They can use the as-yet-unnamed partner services or work with "any external website hosting service" to make the move. Microsoft's partners will offer discounted rates to Office 365 customers, according to the support article. SharePoint Online customers won't get any price breaks from Microsoft with the removal of the Public Website feature, the support article clarified.

Microsoft's plans for getting rid of the Public Website feature first surfaced in an "Office 365 Answers" blog post in late November. That blog post had cited an unnamed Microsoft source for the information.

Other SharePoint Online changes, such as the deprecation of the Notes and Tags features, have been announced by Microsoft in a similar way, with the information surfacing in obscure support articles. Microsoft's stated policy for its online services is to give a one-year notice of any "disruptive" changes to its customers.

Reaction to the SharePoint Online service change was overwhelmingly negative in a Microsoft community portal. Respondents complained there specifically about the extra hosting costs they will face, as well as prospects for having to move their Web sites after first setting them up with SharePoint Online. Microsoft's support article described the Public Website feature deprecation as "a difficult decision" for the company to make.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.