Microsoft users not happy over quiet SharePoint Online feature cuts

Microsoft is phasing out certain SharePoint Online features, and Public Sites are rumored to be the next to go. But Microsoft's not talking.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced the company would enable its business customers to stay on top of the rollout of the myriad moving parts of Microsoft's Office 365 service. The Office 365 Roadmap site would become a central site for many (but not all) Office 365 features that were announced, rolling out or being nixed before they debuted, officials said.

But in the past couple of months, Microsoft has been eliminating quietly some SharePoint Online features -- with more possible eliminations to come. Finding out about those planned cuts isn't as easy as it should be, customers say.

Recently, Microsoft eliminated the Tags & Notes feature in SharePoint Online. It also removed the Tasks menu option from SharePoint Online and the "Sync to Outlook" button, as noted back in September on the Absolute SharePoint blog (which is not run by a Microsoft employee, but instead by Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Vlad Catrinescu).

Catrinescu noted that these cuts were mentioned in Microsoft support notices that he unearthed, but as comments on his blog post note, many users seemed unhappily unaware they were happening or had happened.

Now, it looks like Microsoft may drop the public sites feature in SharePoint Online. Again, that's not according to any Microsoft official site, but instead to the "Office 365 Answers" blog.

From that blog:

"Microsoft is throwing in the towel on the Office 365 public site option. According to a Msft source, it will be removed from the Office 365 Sharepoint Online offering as of an update scheduled for Dec 2014 / Jan 2015. Existing accounts using the public site will not be affected by this dramatic change, but can expect the already lacklustre support to dwindle further."

I am hearing from my sources that it does sound like Microsoft is planning to drop Public Sites from SharePoint Online, most likely around the time frame that the Office 365 Answers site mentioned. Public sites are public-facing Web sites that small and mid-size businesses can create and host on SharePoint.

I asked Microsoft officials whether this was the case and was told by a spokesperson the company had nothing to say about SharePoint Online changes or Public Sites in particular.

SharePoint, which can trace its roots back to 2001, is a many-headed beast. It's an infrastructure product that provides Internet, intranet, social-networking, search, content and document management and more. Keeping tabs on the many features of the on-premises and hosted versions of SharePoint is a full-time job, as the armies of SharePoint consultants, partners and customers can attest.

A new version of the on-premises version of SharePoint is due in the second half of 2015, Microsoft execs have said. But SharePoint Online is getting updates on a near-monthly basis.

Microsoft officials have acknowledged that some Office 365/SharePoint Online features won't end up coming back down to the server versions, as they require constant Internet connectivity to work. Some of the new apps and features enabled by the Office Graph technology are examples.

But customers I'm hearing from are getting increasingly restless about all the work they have to do to keep up with which Office 365 features Microsoft is keeping and which it's killing. Why not use the Office 365 Roadmap site to communicate plans more clearly? Or if that's not the appropriate vehicle, why not find a way to keep users abreast of what's being cut, when -- and hopefully, why?

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