Office 365–MSFT Giveth and MSFT Taketh Away

OK, now that my “biblical” title has caught your attention I’ll explain myself …

2014 has seen big changes in Office 365.  Microsoft has been rolling out change after change after change.  Delve, Clutter, Sway, Office Mix as well as many backend changes and upgrades have made Office 365 a whole bunch better at the end of 2014 than it was going into 2014.  But the change roll also includes deletions of which the single biggest has to be the deprecation and removal of the “public website” component of Office 365.

To be honest, I never got all warm and fuzzy about the public website feature of Office 365.  It was an attempt by Microsoft to counter things like WordPress but they built it on top of SharePoint technologies that really didn’t lend themselves to public facing sites.  Don’t get me wrong, SharePoint is awesome and an incredible tool to do many, many things (there is a reason why itgroove is heavily involved in SharePoint and it’s the Swiss-army knife nature of SharePoint).  But it really didn’t provide a great platform for public sites.  And the third-party ecosystem never really attached itself to Office 365 public websites, certainly not in the way that it has to WordPress.  This made it very hard for organizations to build a public site in Office 365 that had the polish and sparkle you see in so many WordPress sites because the building blocks just weren’t there.  This meant that the actual uptake in Office 365 of public sites (tenancies actually using public sites) was miniscule.

I have made reference elsewhere on this blog to the ruthlessly Darwinian nature of the Internet and Microsoft is no exception to this Darwinism.  They have become pretty ruthless about the “cruft” in their products and there is a definite trend of them now turfing the bits of a product, in this case Office 365, that simply aren’t being utilized by the great majority of their users.  Bits and pieces of SharePoint Online within Office 365 disappeared earlier in the year and then public websites hit the chopping block in mid-December.  I’m sure we’ll see a continuation of this “pruning” in 2015 as we will also see more functionality being rolled into Office 365.

Office 365 is rapidly becoming Microsoft’s premier product (my emphasis); it is certainly their main focus for driving Cloud uptake (sorry, Azure).  Those of us that were at the November MVP conference were shown some very interesting stats about Office 365 growth and to be blunt, Microsoft has never seen a product grow like this puppy.  The stats are mind boggling and Microsoft is clearly committed to keeping this train rolling straight and true.  So the deletions, adds and fine tuning will continue.

Don’t despair if you are an Office 365 public website user as Microsoft isn’t throwing the OFF switch on running public websites just yet.  The plan is to leave them in place for up to 2 years but they won’t allow new instances to spin up going forward.  This gives current users more than enough time to evaluate alternatives and then make the switch in a controlled manner.  Microsoft has not shed any light on what they might suggest as a replacement (there is all sorts of rampant speculation and rumour about them partnering with other vendors such as GoDaddy but that is only speculation at this point).  My guess is that many users will head on over to WordPress or something similar.  But you never know what might be just around the corner.  Microsoft has sprung some things on us this year that we didn’t see coming (Sway, anyone?) so there *might* be something up their corporate sleeve that is going to blow us all away.

I still contend that Office 365 is the best value going out there in the Cloud regardless of the size of your organization.  There is just so much that you can do with the tools that Office 365  gives you, specially when you start using SharePoint and leverage OneNote.  And ignore those pundits out there that suggest Microsoft is making some sort of cash grab by removing public websites without lowering the Office 365 subscription price; their comments are misguided and misinformed.  With the continuous improvements and additions that Microsoft is making to Office 365 the value proposition only continues to expand, not contract.