Live data feeds, Chrome support and extranets.
Under BPOS (the predecessor to Office 365) the biggest challenge that customers came up against was its limitations when compared against an on-premise installation of SharePoint Server 2007.
With the release of Office 365 and a SharePoint Online built on the SharePoint Server 2010 platform Microsoft continually talked about the great increase in feature parity between the on-premise and cloud versions. We also saw roadmaps showing the plan to reduce the divide between limitations – however many were dubious as to when these would see the light of day.
True to their word Microsoft in the past month have released some significant improvements to SharePoint Online that brings it very much closer to the on-premise version, SharePoint Server 2010. The additional features are being released across the world in a gradual rollout which should be completed by 31 December 2011. However, new customers will have access to the improvements straight away.
What are the improvements?
In a nutshell:
– Look up data from external systems with Business Connectivity Services
– Share access to your site with people external to your organisation
– Additional browser support
– Recover from your mistakes with an improved Recycle Bin
– Improvements for mobile access, especially on a Windows Phone 7.5
So what does this mean for me?
Business Connectivity Services
Your organisation can now benefit by incorporating live data from databases into SharePoint sites and pages, allowing the data to be used in a variety of different ways and different formats. Imagine the ability to dive deep into the financial information stored in your line-of-business application and present it as a KPI dashboard with graphs in SharePoint that management can easily digest. This means no more hours spent exporting the data into a spreadsheet and then having to apply formulas and calculations along with charts to get the message across – SharePoint can do it all for you live!
For years we’ve been hearing the term ‘extranet’ but it’s usually only within the grasp of large organisations. With the new external access functionality of SharePoint Online any organisation can now invite up to 50 external users to remotely access their site. The same granular permissions and controls still apply so it doesn’t mean that external users have free rein of your site.
The only limitation is that the external user being invited must either have a Windows Live ID (aka Hotmail account) or be an existing Office 365 customer. For those who don’t have a Windows Live ID or don’t want to use their personal email you can actually sign up using your corporate email address.
Additional Browser Support
Simply put, Internet Explorer 9 and Google Chrome are now supported. Naturally Internet Explorer 9 is more functional however I’ll delve deeper into that another time.
The Recycle Bin functionality of SharePoint Online is already a significant improvement to traditional network file servers where a deleted file must be restored from backup tapes or hard drives. This functionality has been around for a very long time so the recent update merely improves the restoration process – be it a site, library, list, file or even item.
Previous if you were on the Small Business plan of Office 365 and had a Windows Phone you couldn’t actually get to your SharePoint Online site as the traffic wasn’t encrypted using SSL (eg. your site had http:// instead of https://). With the recent improvement this is no longer an issue.
Also if you choose to use the free website functionality of Office 365 for Small Business and browse to the site from a mobile it won’t continually ask you to log in any more.
Do the updates affect you? Maybe not. Can they change the way you work on a daily basis with your team, customers and suppliers, and when mobile? Absolutely!
Loryan Strant is a Microsoft Office 365 MVP (Most Valuable Professional). Follow him on Twitter @TheCloudMouth.