Microsoft is dropping its Public Website feature from SharePoint Online as of January, although it will continue maintenance for existing sites for two more years.

The service enables Office 365 users to build websites and customize them with in-browser tools. Using templates,companies can build public-facing websites with custom domain names, search engine optimization tools, social media integration and search-friendly URLs.

Moving On

Microsoft claims the websites that can built with the tool are pretty basic – similar to those created with the now defunct HTML editor FrontPage. But for those who have been using it, the decision will be a real nuisance because they will be forced to move their websites to third-party solutions using links from Office 365 sometime in the next two years.

Microsoft explained why it has decided to close it down by stating: "As part of the evolution of the Office 365 service, we periodically evaluate the capabilities of the service to make sure that we’re delivering the utmost value to customers. Although it was a difficult decision to discontinue the SharePoint Online Public Website feature, this change lets us focus on future investments while we broaden our partnership with industry leaders.

The problem here is that Microsoft hasn’t really offered a lot of information as to what those “future investments” might be and how they might help those that will be forced to move their websites.

Starting on the changeover date, we will no longer offer the SharePoint Online Public Website feature to new customers. New customers who subscribe to Office 365 after the changeover date won't have access to this feature. Instead, they will have the option to subscribe to third-party solutions by using links from Office 365, the post states.

Where those third-party solutions might come from has not been announced. In fact, apart from saying that Office 365 customers will have “access to industry-leading tools and services” for building and managing their online presence, Microsoft adds nothing more.

3rd Party Tools

It does say, however, that the new solutions that will be brought onboard will provide more robust tools than SharePoint Online Public Websites and that they will enable users develop, support and manage a fuller online presence.

To avoid disruption and data loss, Microsoft advises users to back up all content and data from the SharePoint Online Public Website before they switch to any new solution or service, minimizing potential disruptions.

Over the past year Microsoft has inked partnerships with companies that may be able to help companies that need these kind of third-party tools. At the beginning of 2014, for example, it signed up with GoDaddy which would enable Microsoft offer Office 365 as part of GoDaddy's Web and email hosting service.

This partnership is focused on small and medium sized businesses. exactly the same category of enterprise that looks set to be hit by the SharePoint Online Public Websites announcement.

It also signed up with Get Online Today, which provides domain name services that work with GoDaddy's Website Builder powered by Microsoft's Office 365.