Comparing Microsoft’s SharePoint Online with a 3rd Party Offering

 OK, so hosted SharePoint solutions have always looked pretty limited to experienced developers and administrators, haven’t they? Plus Microsoft seems to be finally getting ready to re-launch its Online Services (including hosted SharePoint) as Office 365, bringing with it (if the screenshots are to be believed) an upgrade to SharePoint 2010. So there really isn’t much point taking the time to compare the current hosted SharePoint 2007 offerings from Microsoft’s current Business Productivity Online Services and another provider, is there? Well, never underestimate the power of a slow day…

I’ll say at this point that this is really all about some cool-ish things Ifound in Microsoft’s offering that, you never know, might just come in handy. I’ll also say that my comparitive offering is from a large hosting provider who I won’t name and I don’t mean to imply any criticism of their service – I’m merely using them as an example of the kind of off-the-shelf hosted SharePoint site than one often gets for free when signing up for hosted Exchange mailboxes, for example.

To dive straight into the Site Collection settings for the Microsoft and 3rd Party portals you can see where the key differences lie:

Microsoft's Site Collection Settings

Microsoft's Site Collection Settings

3rd Party Site Collection Settings

3rd Party Site Collection Settings

That’s right, where as the lower screenshot is pure WSS, from Microsoft we get some MOSS (standard edition) features, namely:

  • MOSS(ish) Search: Search Center, Custom Scopes
  • Site Directory
  • Usage Reports
  • Audit
  • Information Management Policies
  • MOSS Web Parts
  • Translation Libraries
  • Administrator-approved InfoPath Forms

 I think it’s safe to say that the improved search experience and the additional Web parts were the things that most caught my eye (although we still don’t have the ability to define new content sources). Really, what we have from Microsoft is MOSS without any Share Service Provider but if you are being asked to consider SharePoint online, it should be good to know where to go if you need/want these extra features.

One the subject of search, check out Microsoft sneaking in Federated Results from Bing!

Search Results

Search Results

(Don’t worry, you can remove/edit these controls if you want).

Another important plus for the Microsoft offering: We can enable the Publishing Infrastructure for our sites.

This gives us a major advantage if the requirement is to create sites that look a little more like Websites and a little less like the traditional WSS Team Site. In fact, in conjuntion with the additional Web parts it should be possible to create something that looks pretty professional.

A couple of other things from the Microsoft solution also impressed:

  • The ability to create multiple Site Collections.
  • Admin interface allows you to dynamically re-allocate Site Collection storage.
Does Microsoft win hands down? Not entirely, there were a couple of things in 3rd Party offering, that weren’t in Microsoft’s:
  • Custom Templates
  • Pre-built Visitors, Members, Owners groups for the Site Collection (OK, not a major job to create, but why not do it for us)?
Custom Templates
Custom Templates

I’m sure I might just have got lucky in picking a hosting provider that loads up it’s SharePoint sites with so many templates, but in this case we had even more than the ‘Fantastic 40’ (or whatever it’s called). From MS, we have no application templates at all. From the MS FAQ:

Where are the other “Fantastic 40” SharePoint templates? SharePoint Online only has a few of the “Fantastic 40” templates enabled. Enabling other templates is being considered for future releases of SharePoint Online.

What this means in practice is that you can still upload the older .stp Site Templates, but there is no facility to use .wsp solution-based templates. Given that like all current hosted solutions (as opposed to rented dedicated servers) we have no facility for uploading our own customisations as solutions, having a large collection of pre-built templates would probably turn out to be useful.



A note about the SharePoint Designer:

In both cases I was able to do the usual things like adding ASPX pages, editing a Master Page and messing about with the navigation.

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