Meanwhile, SP Marketplace has been having to regularly tweak its applications for SharePoint Online since around November, and it now views Office 365 as a problematic platform for its software, said CEO Darrell Trimble.
"We have to check every day to make sure everything is running okay, and we have also asked our customers to tell us if something isn't running well," he said. "The minute we learn something has changed, we push out an update. We've been proactive."
Ironically, SP Marketplace isn't having this issue with third-party hosting companies of the stand-alone SharePoint Online, because they typically don't change their version of the software often, and when they do, they give advance notice and details about what they'll change. The issue SP Marketplace is having is with the SharePoint Online instances that run within the broader Office 365 suite, which is hosted exclusively by Microsoft.
"I don't know if the issue is that Microsoft doesn't understand that people are relying on that platform and on its features and functions to do what they have to do," Trimble said.
Right now, it seems to Trimble that Office 365's SharePoint Online "isn't really in the 2010 edition nor in the 2013 edition -- it's somewhere in between," and that's a big problem for SP Marketplace, which started building applications for SharePoint on-premise versions about two years ago, and modified them for SharePoint Online about a year ago.
"When you're trying to run applications or build things on top of that, it's a little hard to do because it becomes an unstable environment," Trimble said.
It's also a problem for SP Marketplace's customers, since the applications are for core business processes.
"We had very few issues until Microsoft started to talk about the 2013 upgrade and started to change things in SharePoint Online under the covers," Trimble said.
SP Marketplace tested its applications against the first preview version of SharePoint Online 2013 that Microsoft made available, and they worked fine, but they have been breaking as Microsoft has further modified the software, Trimble said. It doesn't seem like a good decision to update Office 365's SharePoint Online with the "14 mode" code of SharePoint 2013 if that edition hasn't shipped officially yet, he said.
"Being a good Microsoft partner, I'll do anything I can to help Microsoft, but it seems they're shooting themselves in the foot," Trimble said.
At ObjectSharp, a pilot SharePoint site built for one of its customers disappeared from end users' views in late December, sending ObjectSharp on a frantic, two-day troubleshooting mission.
At first, ObjectSharp's staff didn't suspect the culprit could be a Microsoft back-end upgrade, so it spent a big chunk of time trying to isolate the problem on its customer's end. A 45-minute call to Microsoft support yielded no helpful clues, but on a second call a different Microsoft representative suggested the problem was likely related to the back-end upgrades.
Sure enough, when Object Sharp checked, their customer's SharePoint Online version had been moved to the "14 mode" version. "But the user interface is still the 2010 interface," said Bruce Johnson, ObjectSharp's vice president of technology.
Neither ObjectSharp nor its customer got a notice from Microsoft that this SharePoint Online version would be switched over, he said.
"I assume that Microsoft thought no one would be affected," Johnson said.
Eventually, ObjectSharp was able to regain programmatic access to the affected site.
"Microsoft has been so solid, so strong in keeping Office 365 servers up and running, that the idea that this might happen for something so silly as a back-end upgrade and not notify people, I found that simply stunning," Johnson said.