Going Online with SharePointWith 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.

Getting Started

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.

SharePoint Online Standard Capabilities

SharePoint Online is offered as a collaboration and communications tool for organization's Intranets. It offers the following types of functionality.

  • Collaboration
  • Portals
  • Search
  • Content Management
  • Business Process and Forms

In the standard version, you do not get all the functionality that you would if you implemented your own version of SharePoint on premise or if you subscribed to the Dedicated Version. Here's a look at what you get and don't get.


 What you get:

  • Six default site templates (wiki, blog, team site, document workspace, blank, basic meeting)
  • Surveys
  • People and Groups
  • Calendars
  • Issue Tracking
  • Document Collaboration
  • Site Admin templates

 What you don't get:

  • Presence awareness
  • social networking
  • Templates (all meeting templates except basic)
  • Site Templates (My Site, News Site, Internet Presence Site)
  • Templates requiring server side code
  • Server Admin Templates


 What you get:

  • Client Integration
  • SharePoint Designer Integration
  • Audience Targeting to a SharePoint group
  • Portal Site templates
  • Site Manager
  • Site and Document Aggregation
  • Document Rollup Web Part
  • Mobile Device Support

 What you don't get:

  • My Sites
  • Audience targeting to distribution groups or the ability to create audiences
  • Membership web parts
  • User Profiles Import
  • Back and Restore via SP Designer

Content Management

 What you get:

  • Document Information and Panel Bar
  • Site Authoring
  • Master Pages, Page Layouts, navigation controls
  • Some retention and auditing policies
  • Three State Workflow and all standard document workflows
  • WYSIWYG Editor
  • Standard Publishing Site Templates: Collaboration and Publishing
  • Site Variations

What you don't get:

  • Content Staging, Publishing and Deployment
  • Standard enterprise site templates
  • Records repository and legal holds
  • Email content as records


What you get:

  • Search within site collection
  • Security trimmed results
  • Configurable scope

What you don't get:

  • Cross collection search
  • Enterprise content sources
  • People Search
  • Search Federation
  • Business Data Search

Business Process and Forms

 What you get:

  • Form Libraries
  • Custom no-code workflows

What you don't get:

  • Custom workflows that are coded
  • Browser-based forms
  • SharePoint Server OOTB workflows

Customization Capabilities

Probably one of the most important questions you may have about using SharePoint Online is what can you customize. You can do customizations, but you are limited to customizing only what doesn't require coding.

SharePoint Designer is the tool to use to customize your SharePoint Online site. With it you can:

  • Create no-code workflows
  • Modify and create master pages, page layouts
  • Create content types and taxonomy
  • Create custom site templates
  • Use the Data Form Web Part to create mashups of SharePoint data or other data brought in using Web Services
  • Create InfoPath Forms -- no code allowed

If you are using Visual Studio to build custom web parts, features or workflows, then you don't want SharePoint Online:

  • No in-line code is allowed, including code in InfoPath Forms or custom coded workflows
  • Can't create features, site definitions, web parts, solutions -- anything that requires something be installed and configured on the server.
  • You also can't modify SharePoint files, web.config settings or security
  • No custom database modifications
  • No configuration changes that affect the web server or the .NET framework

Is SharePoint Online Right For You?

This has been a quick review of the standard version of SharePoint Online Services. There's likely enough information here to give you a good idea if the service is a candidate for your organization's needs.

If you are looking for a version of SharePoint that is highly customizable, this probably isn't the best fit for you. If you are looking to implement some of those integrated partner solutions, this isn't the best fit for you -- at least not yet.

There are a number of resources that will help you understand exactly how you can customize SharePoint Online. A 133 page developer guide is one of these. You also go the SharePoint Online website and download data sheets for both product versions.