IMG_5892Microsoft is discontinuing its SharePoint Online Public Website service. This free service has enabled users to create websites in SharePoint that are accessible to the public.

As an alternative, Office 365 subscribers will be given access to third-party options that will enable them to integrate their public presence with their Office 365 service.

Timing of the Change and Cost Implications

The dropping of the Public Website service from SharePoint is taking effect in January 2015 and  has implications for both new and existing customers.

The cost of Office 365 will not be reduced or affected in any way. Once third-party solutions are available, they will be offered at discounted rates to Office 365 customers.

Implications for Existing Customers

Microsoft has stated that existing customers who currently use the Public Website feature will be able to use it for at least two years after the change. During this period, however, existing customers will be expected to switch to one of the third-party offerings.

When explaining the reason for the change, Microsoft said that it is part of “the evolution of the Office 365 service”. The Public Website feature for SharePoint Online was designed to give users a basic online presence. In the words of Microsoft, third-party solutions will offer users “more robust tools and solutions” to develop public websites.

It is important to note that existing subscribers to Office 365 who do not currently use the Public Website feature will be treated as new customers after the change. To be considered existing customers of this SharePoint Online feature, users must have signed up before the changeover date.

Third-Party Solutions

Third-party solution providers will offer you, as a Microsoft Office 365 customer, access to cutting edge tools and services in order to build and manage your online presence. Microsoft has also confirmed that you will not be locked into using one of their preferred third-party solutions. You will have the option of using any other website development and hosting service.

Microsoft will provide more information regarding these third-party solutions at some time in January 2015. Existing users of the Public Website service will also be advised how to switch over to one of these alternative service providers.

You may have a legitimate concern about loss of content and data during the switch. At this stage, the transfer will be a manual process to be effected and managed by the customer. The onus will therefore be on you to carry out a complete back up of content before migration to avoid any data loss and disruption in service.

Implications for New Customers

Any new customers that subscribe to Office 365 after the changeover date will have access to links to Microsoft-nominated third-party service providers for public website development. However, if you signed up as a new customer before the changeover date, you will be able to take advantage of the free Public Website service for the next two years.

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