Wednesday, January 30, 2013

External user sharing is confusing with new Office 365

If you are not aware, the next version of SharePoint Online from Office 365 allows much easier file sharing with external parties. As part of this sharing you can require the external user to require a login for the file. So is that handled? So let’s look at this purely from an external users point of view.

 

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Initially the external user will receive an email like that shown above that invites them to open a shared file. They simply click on the filename link.

 

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Since the option to require a login to access this file was selected during sharing they now see this screen that says they must sign in with a Hotmail or User ID. You will also notice that in the lower right there is an option to Sign up for a Hotmail account. We’ll come back to that in a moment.

 

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Let’s say they do have a Hotmail account so they click the icon on the left. This is where they end up.

 

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If I enter a Hotmail address in the User ID field Office 365 detects this and now prompts you to Sign in at Hotmail.com via a link at the bottom of the page. Hmm…I did already tell you I had a Hotmail account no?

 

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If instead of the left hand link the user selects the icon on the right hand side of the screen corresponding to a User id they end up at the same Office 365 login screen. If they have an Office 365 login (from another tenant) they can login and access the file but in our case the external user doesn’t have this.

 

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Now if the user clicks the link at the bottom of the original page to sign up for Hotmail, guess where they end up? Yup, same Office 365 login screen. Can you see anywhere on here that tells a user how to register for a Hotmail account? Neither can I.

 

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The only real option, if the external user hasn’t given up yet, is to select the Sign in with a Windows Live Id at the bottom of the page. That then takes them to a screen shown above where there is finally a link to sign up for Hotmail as shown above.

 

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So if they now try and sign up the only option they receive for a Microsoft account name is @hotmail.com or @live.com. I can’t see many external users wanting to sign up for an additional email account can you?

 

Honestly, this is all too confusing for external users who probably just want to see a file. I also reckon that even signing up for a Hotmail account to access a protected file is not easy either. Why can’t the sign up for Hotmail link at the first page actually take you to location where you can actually sign up? Hmmm…all too hard for my liking.

 

My solution? If you really want to require a password for access to a shared file with an external user get them to create Microsoft Live ID first at:

 

http://login.live.com

 

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As you can see above, at least when you do that you can specify the email address of the account. This means the external user can make it same as the email account they already have! It also means they don’t get an additional Hotmail or Live email box.

 

Once a Windows Live ID has been created in this way, linked to the external users original email address, they can use this to login to access the restricted shared file. Problem here is that you need to do that BEFORE they can access the file. More pain.

 

So for a pure external user, with no existing Hotmail, Office 365 or Live ID, sharing restricted files from SharePoint Online 2013 is going to require a lot of customer support. I certainly hope Microsoft improves this process over time. I really, really do. Office 365 is still in Preview, so fingers crossed.