With the number of on-premise SharePoint installs going no where but up, one has to wonder why Microsoft has also gone to the trouble of building an online (SaaS) version.
In an interview with Redmond's Director of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS), Tom Rizzo indicated the move was in part to reach new customers and grow revenue more efficiently -- keeping up with the Joneses also comes to mind.
SharePoint Online isn't for everyone. While it offers a nice bit of functionality that will support many organization's collaboration and document management needs, there are some things you can't do and you should be aware of these before you sign up.
A Little Background
Microsoft's decision to offer an online version of SharePoint was announced back in March of last year. Designed to offer intranet collaboration capabilities for organizations of all sizes, there are two flavors, standard and dedicated (see details).
The standard version is a shared version -- multi-tenancy -- with most of the functionality required to support a company intranet that is focused on collaboration and communication.
The dedicated version offers a bit more functionality and is a separate installation on separate servers for a specific company.
SharePoint Online Admin Center
Microsoft supports the following languages for SharePoint online: English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish. And the offering was just recently made available to a number of countries other than the United States.
Here is a quick view of what you get with SharePoint Online Standard:
SharePoint Online Standard -- Key Features
SharePoint Deskless Worker
In addition to the standard user, Microsoft offers a special deskless worker subscription. This is typically a person who needs access to information on the Intranet site but does require the collaboration capabilities. Generally they may not work in the office or have an assigned PC. Deskless workers cannot upload or create documents, only view and download.
Secure and Fully Backed Up
Access to your SharePoint Online Site is encrypted with 128 bit SSL encryption. Availability is 99.9% and backups are performed every 12 hours. There is also the Recycle Bin for most content types, the exception being deleted web pages (not web part pages) and customizations done using SharePoint Designer.
You also have virus filtering of email and other content using Microsoft Forefront Security for SharePoint. There are also a number of files types that are blocked from upload to SharePoint Online including: asp, bat, exe, class and more.
Okay enough of the basics. Time to get to the heart of the situation and look at what you do and do not get with the standard version of SharePoint Online.
You don't create your Site Collections though the usual SharePoint Server Administration. You do through the Online Admin Center. This means you can't create a site collection from a custom template -- you only have the default options available.
Remember the forty application templates that SharePoint offers free? You can upload any one of those to get a custom site created.
SharePoint Online -- Create Site Collection
Once you have your first collection created you can start using SharePoint Online. You will need to add any users you want to access the site -- this is also done through the Online Admin Website.
Microsoft also provides one-way Directory synchronization to help you get your users imported to SharePoint Online quickly.
SharePoint Online -- Admin, Manage Users
Single Sign On Application
To make life a little easier when using SharePoint Online, you download and install the Microsoft Online Services Sign-In application. This application enables you to move through the site without having to continually provide your credentials.