Office 365: some frustration with public websites

In the past few months, like many SharePoint consultants, I have spent some time playing with Office 365, Microsoft’s own SharePoint hosting offer.

Having read on many blogs how great Office 365 is, once again I’ll go against the grain to express some frustration I had with public websites (plan E3).

On the paper, the SharePoint architecture offered in plan E3 looks very attractive:

  • On the one side, a collaborative site collection with secure access (https). Anonymous users are not allowed here.
  • On the other side a public site collection with pre-built pages (Home, Contact Us, etc.). Business users can easily do simple customization  – add a logo, move the navigation, etc. In addition, Microsoft offers a set of “gadgets” that can be added to the pages to insert a contact form, a map, etc.

I really like the clear separation between public and private sites. I also like the gadgets set, which makes it easy to add functionalities that are not available in SharePoint out of the box, like contact forms (several bloggers have claimed that they could build secure contact forms with SharePoint OOTB… but none has proved it!).

So, what’s my problem? Here is the catch: the usual content management features, that make SharePoint such a powerful application, are not available on the pages designed for the public site. You cannot, for example, manage your public announcements in an Announcements list, and have these announcements displayed on the Home page via a Web Part.

You can read about my discovery path in this thread from the Office 365 forum (obviously I was not in a good mood when I stumbled upon this):

I also wrote about it and my current workaround on LinkedIn.

To conclude on a bright note, I really appreciate Microsoft’s recent efforts to get more involved in the community and provide proactive support. Special thanks to Jason Hennis for getting back to me and investigating the issue.

18 thoughts on “Office 365: some frustration with public websites

    • What you are showing in your example is an iframe. I have 3 issues with that:
      – it doesn’t provide a simple drag and drop experience for a business user, like a Web Part page would
      – the layout is not fluid, scrollbars show up in the middle of the screen
      – the content actually resides on a different page, search engines won’t index it as part of the home page.

      As I mentioned in the two discussions (cf. links in my post), and as you show in your example, technically it can be done. It’s just not the right experience for a home page.

    • sp365uk: sorry, I spoke too fast. The scrollbars in the middle of the screen made me believe you were using an iframe, but apparently you are displaying a regular Web Part with forced width.

      The issue I describe in this post and in the two discussions is specific to the default home page (/Pages/Default.aspx). And if you bypass it with a Web Part page as home, as you did, then you lose the easy styling and the gadgets.

    • For the record, when I click on the item in your page, I get an “Access Denied” error message. I assume this was just a demo, and you have additional styling in mind.

  1. Frankly, I am surprised to find that you can’t add an announcement list web part to the public facing home page. To my way of thinking that is a basic necessity for a variety of reasons, search engine indexing being a major one. To remain high in the rankings you need your home page indexed content to be fresh and relevant, Announcements are a good way to help accomplish this.

    It may not be a deal killer all in itself, but it is a major point on the CON side.


    • Just to clarify: you can create a Web Part page, add an announcement Web Part, and make this your public facing home page. But then you don’t benefit from the features offered by the default home page (no gadget, no customization UI).

      • And that is the problem in a nut shell, you can’t keep the niffty new gadgets and add the web parts you need. Like I said not necessarily a deal killer, but definitely a disappointment. One I hope they rectify in the future.

    • The default home page won’t allow you to add a Content Query Web Part either (or any Web Part). I just took the announcements as an example.

  2. Guys is there any way of customising the look/brand of the Office 365 Sharepoint logon screen? I have searched the net high and low and there isnt much literature on this topic. Our Office 365 Sharepoint site is configured so that our clients must log on first, however as you know, the standard logon page is Microsoft & Office 365 branded.

    I guess on the one hand I can understand the difficulties in changing this page (prob not possible), but is there some other way around it? I cant see how businesses who are wanting to setup their own secure sharepoint sites would want the logon screen to be branded with another organisation’s logo. Hope someone has an answer.


  3. Hey Christophe. I am currently using SP 2007 at work. They are planning to go to 2010 next year and I would like to be prepared. Would Office 365 help me get ready for the upgrade (not on the server side or anything – just for designing and maintaining the pages. What are your thoughts after using it?


    • Office 365 can certainly help you get familiar with the new features and ribbon interface. However it sounds like an expensive option if your only purpose is training, and you don’t care about other benefits like Lync. You could find a good hosting service for half the price.

  4. Christophe,

    You can enable full publishing on public site as Martin Hatch shows here:
    Although, there is some abiguity around whether this is supported.

    After having done so, you are free from the less than stellar master page and editor limitations of OOB public sites yet you can still use some gadgets like he does here:

    Still not the ideal of true sharepoint plus easy gadgets that all users will find friendly. Shame.


  5. Hi Christophe,

    Thanks for sharing your work-around and the fact that some of these other work-arounds have issues or are not supported.

    Has Microsoft taken any stance on your JQuery work-around to include some list contents? Also, could you provide a JQuery sample?

    Thanks Much, John

  6. Pingback: A dynamic website built on Office 365 « Path to SharePoint

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