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SharePoint Online Public Website feature is discontinued

New Office 365 customers won’t have access to the Public Websites feature in SharePoint Online. They’ll need to sign on with third parties to support public-facing websites.

Microsoft has confirmed that new customers signing up for Office 365 won't have access to the SharePoint Online Public Website feature. The company confirmed the change in a Knowledge Base article published Dec. 19.

Existing customers using the feature can continue to use Public Websites for a minimum of two years. Microsoft will also recommend third parties to take over support of its public-facing site functionality, though its list of recommended providers isn't yet public. It plans to release a list in January 2015.

The existing SharePoint online functionality is designed for companies that need only a bare-bones presence, but third-party support may enable more feature-rich functionality.

For customers that use the Public Website feature, the changes may have implications in a couple of ways. First, it may cost more money for customers to enlist third-party support. "The customer will take it on the chin, dollar-wise," said Scott Robinson, a SharePoint and business intelligence consultant.

There is also ample question about how migration from a SharePoint site to a third party will work; SharePoint migrations can be difficult. A migration could be time-consuming for companies that have invested a lot of content in their existing SharePoint sites.

"It gets messy very quickly, because it's all ultimately .NET," Robinson said, referring to SharePoint's code under the hood. Migrating sites that involve customization is problematic, and the same is likely to be the case here. So too, Robinson warned, a migration may be risky without true understanding of the Microsoft roadmap in the future.

Brien M. Posey, a Microsoft MVP, said that while Microsoft's change may not be good for customers, the company has a history of costly licensing for public-facing sites with SharePoint.

'It's not entirely unprecedented," Posey said. "In the early days of SharePoint, the product was licensed in a way that commonly made public access to SharePoint sites cost-prohibitive."

If you're a SharePoint user with public-facing sites, we want to hear from you. Write to me at or tweet me @lhorwitz.

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How have enterprise search capabilities improved with SharePoint 2013? What challenges remain?
SharePoint 2013 has brought some nice and needed changes, among them are the ability to quickly search through results without having to open each individual search result, leading to a more streamlined and efficient flow. Also, the much more flexible search schema allows for fine-tuned searches without slowing the workflow and background tasks being run during the searches. The changes to the crawling and the new relevance improvements have also been improvements.