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SharePoint Online features gaining parity with on-premises version

Microsoft has had to step up the functionality of SharePoint Online to make the application worth users' while.

SharePoint Online, the cloud-based version of SharePoint that is part of the Office 365 suite, can make sense for companies that want a low-cost version of the application. But SharePoint in the cloud has been notoriously less feature-packed than its on-premises counterpart. But as companies delve further into cloud-based applications, Microsoft has had to step up the functionality of SharePoint Online to make it worth users' while.

According to Scott Robinson, a SharePoint and business intelligence expert, 2014 has been an important year for the application in terms of bringing the cloud and on-premises versions closer together in functionality.

"The story of 2014 and SharePoint Online," said Robinson, "is that Microsoft started sneaking things a little at a time all year long," including search functionality, cross-site publishing and e-discovery functionality.

Hybrid cloud model. Robinson also noted that next year, the hybrid model will put new pressure on Microsoft to add functionality to the cloud-based version of SharePoint. To date, using SharePoint Online and SharePoint on-premises has sometimes run counter to companies' objectives to go to the cloud to save money.

"It's very expensive to do that," Robinson said. "It's self-defeating to want to save money by going into the cloud if you have to have an on-premises version anyway. The hybrid model only works for people who already had an on-premises version."

But Robinson noted that next year, Microsoft will likely continue to build parity into SharePoint and close that functionality gap.

SharePoint and customization. Robinson also discussed the perils of customization of SharePoint in the cloud. Robinson noted that performance can be compromised when admins customize SharePoint in the cloud. That has been a hindrance for some companies. But Robinson predicted that next year, customization will improve.

"Customization, moving forward, is going to be simpler than in the past," Robinson said. "With the [new] app model, anything that you deploy is a Web part that conforms to Microsoft's general code-execution rules. By its very nature, the code we deploy in the future will be cleaner and more efficient than the code up to this point. It's going to be possible to write more customized apps than it's ever been before."

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