External users need paid invitations after the first 50.
The inclusion of SharePoint Online in Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud productivity suite is a highlight as SharePoint has developed into a respected document management platform with libraries of useful templates.
SharePoint can be used to build a website to promote your business, an intranet to share internal documents among your employees, or an extranet to share commercial information with your customers, partners and suppliers.
Extranets are usually password protected to give some measure of privacy; you wouldn’t want competitors to see everything you show your customers. The SharePoint administrator enters the email address of external users into the permissions settings and sends them an invitation to access the extranet.
Unfortunately, when it comes to sharing extranets, SharePoint Online has some serious limitations.
Office 365 customers on the small business licence (P1) receive 50 invitations and are not able to buy more.
Office 365 customers on the enterprise plans receive 50 free invitations to send to external users to access SharePoint extranets. While 50 invitations may sound like a lot, divide it between your employees and it won’t go so far.
How much are extra invitations? That depends. A Microsoft spokesman told BoxFreeIT that the exact pricing is set by Telstra or in the enterprise agreement with Microsoft for larger companies. “This is a specific, separate licence-type that is significantly cheaper than the K licence,” the spokesman said. The K licence, for kiosk workers, is the cheapest enterprise licence for Office 365 at $6.30 per user per month.
The problem is not the cost but the hassle of having to count the number of users licensed, and revoke and approve licences as external users come and go. Another hurdle is that external users must have a Microsoft profile called LiveID to access the extranet site, which means an account with Hotmail or Live.com. Asking customers for their personal Hotmail emails – or to sign up if they don’t have one – is not the most professional move.
Google Apps’ SharePoint Online alternative is called Google Sites. Google lets businesses invite unlimited external users to extranets built on Google Sites. This makes it ideal for sharing pages with large numbers of non-employees.
However, Google Sites is a much less developed platform than SharePoint Online. The greatest failing is the lack of templates, both from Google and third-party developers, which means more effort in setting up a professional-looking site (extranet or otherwise).