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Microsoft Discontinuing Several SharePoint Online Features

Microsoft has disclosed that it is axing a number of features from its SharePoint Online product, apparently as part of an effort to urge users toward Yammer.

The company deprecated the Notes and Tags features last month. In addition, a Tasks menu option was removed from the SharePoint Online menu, and the Tasks page is subject to removal after one year. The Sync to Outlook feature in SharePoint Online is also subject to removal by Microsoft, although it, too, will continue to work for a year's time.

Microsoft's announcements aren't easy to spot. The one regarding the Notes and Tags deprecation can be found at this page. Microsoft's notice about removing the Tasks page and the Sync to Outlook capability is buried in this support article. The announcements seem to have been made sometime in early September.

Late last month, Microsoft MVP and SharePoint expert Vlad Catrinescu pointed out that Microsoft was removing these features in a blog post. He noted that not all companies using SharePoint Online may have been quite ready for these changes. Microsoft's recommendation is for organizations to use the Yammer enterprise social networking solution instead.

While organizations can still use SharePoint Online's Newsfeed solution to collaborate, that's also likely to be "a temporary solution since Microsoft is heading towards Yammer all the way," Catrinescu added.

The Notes feature was used as a way to send informal messages to coworkers or to publicly share comments about an article or Web page. Tags was a way for users to more easily surface and track content resources by marking a document or a Web page with a tag phrase. Tasks was a quick way to build collaborative projects by assigning team members to different project phases, pushing action items into users' calendars.

Microsoft has flat out stated that it will lean more toward Yammer for collaboration solutions in SharePoint Online going forward. Yammer is a pure cloud-based solution, though, so organizations cautious about tapping the cloud for their communications might be reluctant to make the move.

Microsoft's hosted solutions are subject to a rapid release pace that gets disclosed to Office 365 subscribers in Office 365's Message Center. The changes also get listed at Microsoft's Office 365 roadmap page, although these SharePoint Online feature deprecations weren't apparent there at press time. Apparently, the "Cancelled" listing at that page is just for features that were planned but not implemented.

In June, Microsoft had explained that it had a new Office 365 roadmap program, which is its current means for announcing Office 365 service changes. Microsoft gives organizations a one-year advance notice of any "disruptive" Online Services changes, according to its product lifecycle FAQ. Microsoft's Online Services lifecycle support policy defines such changes as follows: "'Disruptive change' means change where a customer or administrator is required to take action in order to avoid significant degradation to the normal operation of the Online Service."

Last month, Microsoft quietly announced in a forum post that it planned to remove the Office on Demand feature from Office 365 subscriptions, starting in November. Office on Demand provides a means for using Office applications on the fly. It works by temporarily streaming the bits onto a PC. Microsoft suggested that organizations could use its Office Online apps instead.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.