SharePoint Online (SPO) is the cloud version of SharePoint and a large part of Office 365 (O365), Microsoft's cloud service platform. SPO is hosted and maintained by Microsoft on its servers. SPO provides similar functionality to earlier, on-premises versions of SharePoint. SPO is most similar in functionality to SharePoint 2016, though as time goes on this becomes less true as more features are introduced to SPO on an on-going basis.
SPO is part of most of the O365 subscription services for enterprises. Accessing SPO is easy and can be accomplished on any device with an internet connection. Unless your organization has instituted a VPN, you should be able to log in to your organization's SPO tenant by browsing to
http://portal.office.com, logging in with your organization-specific credentials, and selecting SharePoint from the O365 waffle.
SPO is similar to any app you may have on your smartphone: it gets updated on a regular basis with bug fixes, feature updates, and major function rollouts. Some new features can be turned off or deferred by the tenant admin, but many cannot.
Because SPO is regularly updated with smaller features rolled out as they're ready (as opposed to waiting for a major patch or update to a major version of SharePoint), SPO enjoys additional functions and features that versions of SharePoint on-prem do not have or won't gain until those features are rolled into an upgrade. Below is an incomplete list of features/functionality that SPO has that earlier versions of SharePoint on-prem do not.
SPO lacks some functionality that came with previous, on-prem versions of SharePoint. Below is an incomplete list.
- Text/SMS alerts are not supported from SPO even though the option still remains visible when setting an alert. The SharePoint indicates this will never be included, though they mention push notifications may be coming.
- Blog post: Explained: SharePoint versus Office 365