SharePoint Online is Microsoft’s hosted version of SharePoint. It runs in the same datacenters as Exchange Online, Lync Online, and the rest of the Office 365 suite and is, for all intents and purposes, Microsoft’s preferred way to deploy SharePoint from this day forward. (In fact, at a recent conference, I learned Microsoft’s internal IT department is only deploying SharePoint Online instances now; no more on premises servers are being rolled out.)

As with every offering, however, there are some gotchas. Here are three things you didn’t know about SharePoint Online before now.

  • Yammer is making all things social and SharePoint confusing for many people. Unless you were living under a rock, you probably heard about Microsoft’s huge purchase of the corporate social media pioneer Yammer back in mid 2012. At the time, Microsoft promised to include the technology and environment Yammer was known for into its SharePoint product—both on premises and online. And it promised to do this quickly. Well, it is over a year later and really the only integration we have seen is the option only in the last couple of months to replace your SharePoint Online newsfeed—the place where SharePoint Online populates what each user is doing, what documents they are viewing, what groups they have joined—with the Yammer newsfeed that honestly looks like a clone of Facebook. If you are running SharePoint on premises, then you are still waiting for any sort of “technology bump” that includes Yammer features. And of course, as you might have suspected, the Yammer integration is for SharePoint 2013 only—not  SharePoint 2007 or SharePoint 2010. Further, Microsoft refuses to release a timeline for when Yammer’s newsfeed will become the de facto standard for SharePoint Online activity feeds. It says no further development or work will take place on the default SharePoint newsfeed, but yet it is not making people switch over. It says it has no date for making this transition, but yet you should train your users because Yammer is the preferred newsfeed now. This is the difficulty with using a product in the cloud that straddles two worlds—your cloud users will at some point be forced into one experience, but your on premises users will remain with an older interface that you are unable to update. Confusing.
  • The support options for the various SharePoint Online and Office 365 plans are very different, so buyer beware.Many people are surprised to learn that only the Enterprise, or E, variants of the various SharePoint Online and Office 365 plans come with elevated telephone, ticket, and e-mail based support. If you are a smaller business and want to purchase one of the small business or P sized plans, or you are part of a larger business and you are just trying to work around deployment restrictions imposed by your own IT department, then it is important to understand that unless you have an E plan, you will only get support from web forums on the Microsoft site. There is no guaranteed response time; there isn’t even a guaranteed response. You are depending largely on the kindness of strangers to help you diagnose and troubleshoot whatever issue you may be having with the SharePoint online P plan. New threads describing issues and posts on that thread will often go several days before a response is made, and there are many threads where there is no Microsoft support presence at all. The moral of the story here is: unless you really know what you are doing, stay away from the ultra cheap options that include no support.
  • If you are on a post-upgrade SharePoint Online tenant, you can continue to use the “skin,” or theme, from SharePoint 2010 even though the innards of your site are running on the SharePoint 2013 platform. This is particularly helpful if you are running SharePoint on a hybrid deployment, with some servers on premises and some users hitting SharePoint Online. If your users are trained on SharePoint 2010, you do not have to migrate the way the site looks immediately; you can stay on the 2010 skin even after the site transitions to the 2013 platform. If you are on a pre-upgrade tenant, you will get the option to delay the entire upgrade and stay running on the 2010-era tenants for up to two months, although after that time you will be unable to control the date of the upgrade. But the option to stay with the previous theme stays even after your upgrade.

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