SharePoint Online Site Mailbox.jpg
Another milestone in the gradual upgrade of Office 365 -- SharePoint Online is finally out of preview. Although Microsoft doesn’t say when users will be able to get the new version, it does say that it will be soon and that users will be given notice of four weeks before they have to upgrade.

SharePoint Online General Availability

In a post on the Office 365 technical blog and which appears on the SharePoint blog in an edited version, the SharePoint team says that the version that is being made generally available will have a number of changes based on what it describes as “actionable feedback” from the beta testing community.

Those changes, the blog says, will generally speaking provide for better performance, simpler user experiences and more administration controls in a stable product.

The upgrade, which will be available soon -- although what "soon" means hasn’t been clarified -- will have a new user interface, global Office 365 navigation and new features that support all kinds of workplace scenarios.

Last month,  we already took a look at the top 10 new features that come with SharePoint Online, but there are a few more that will come with the new product once users upgrade to the full, generally available edition.

Worth pointing out here though, is that all these features will be available automatically to those who buy SharePoint Online now and in the future, and that an upgrade is only necessary for those that have been using the Preview version.

SharePoint Online Interface.jpg
A sample site showing the UI of a rich team site template with an embedded PowerPoint Web App, a rollup Top-Rated Doc list, a KPI chart and the new surrounding navigation and share/follow/sync buttons.

SharePoint Online Upgrade Planning

So how is the upgrade going to work? Over the coming weeks, Microsoft recommends that users do the following once they have been notified that the upgrade is on the way. Keep in mind here that four weeks notice will be given, but even then enterprises will have the possibility of pushing this out by at least another eight weeks:

  • Evaluate: Examine content and sites and see what is being used. Content or sites that are not being used should be removed. This should be a regular enterprise strategy anyway regardless of upgrades.
  • Upgrade: Individual site collections should be upgraded at a pace that suits the enterprise either one at a time, or all at the same time depending on needs.

Site Collection Upgrade

For the Site Collection upgrades there will be three ways of upgrading that can be initiated once you have made sure that your sites are working properly. Upgrade methods include:

  • Manual: Each site can be upgraded manually through the native admin user interface
  • Test first, then upgrade: The new version comes with an upgrade "evaluation site collections" that enables you to monitor your site and content before doing anything.
  • Upgrade in bulk: This shoudl only be done after a thorough testing via Windows PowerShell.

There are a few other changes that will happen once you upgrade to the new version. SharePoint Designer 2010 will no longer work and you will need to upgrade to the 2013 version, while Microsoft also points out that support for Explorer 7 was dropped from Office 365 a long time back.

There is a lot more that users need to take on board before the upgrade but it is important, Microsoft says, to ensure that users are fully aware of the changes and plan the upgrade before rushing into it. It also says that users should also spend sufficient time testing the new capabilities before committing.