The rumors were right. Microsoft is dropping the Public Website feature from SharePoint Online as of January 2015.New customers signing up for Office 365 as of January next year won't have access to Public Websites in SharePoint Online, Microsoft officials acknowledged in a new Knowledge Base support article published on December 19. Existing customers using SharePoint Online Public Website will continue to have access to this feature for a minimum of two years following the changeover date, Microsoft execs said.
Microsoft is planning to advise Office 365/SharePoint Online users who want to use Public Websites -- a feature that allowed customers to build public-facing Web sites on top of SharePoint -- to use certain third-party services that integrate directly with Office 365 for that function.
Microsoft is not yet disclosing which third-party services it will recommend, but instead is saying details will be coming on this in January 2015.
The way that I -- and some SharePoint users -- first heard about this coming change was not from Microsoft. It was from the independent "Office 365 Answers" blog, which cited an unnamed source as providing the information about the planned deprecation.
It sounds as if part of the reason Microsoft is discontinuing Public Websites is due to its relative lack of usage. Ian Hameroff, Director of Product Marketing for Office 365, told me it's also because Microsoft is prioritizing where it invests its time and money on Office 365 features.
The KB note is promising that the coming, supplemental third-party public-website offerings will do more than just provide users with "a basic online presence;" they will include "more robust tools and solutions.
The existing SharePoint Online Public Website feature was designed for customers who needed only a basic online presence. These new solutions will provide more robust tools and solutions needed for delivering, supporting and managing a fuller online presence, officials said.
Existing customers using Public Web Sites will not see a price reduction in Office 365/SharePoint Online as a result of Microsoft cutting this feature, according to the KB article. The third-party offerings will be available "at discounted pricing rates for Office 365 customers where available," the article says.
"All content and data migration is currently a manual process to be completed by the customer," Microsoft officials noted.
Hameroff said that Microsoft's disclosure plans call for the company to notify users of these kinds of changes via the Office 365 Message Center, rather than via a public blog or the Office 365 roadmap site. This way, he said, Microsoft only notifies customers who are affected by changes rather than the entire customer base.
More specifics on the Public Website deprecation will be available in January 2015, Hameroff said.