Earlier this year Microsoft launched SharePoint Online, which is part of its Office 365 product offering. As with an on-site deployment of SharePoint, you can create sites and lists, share documents, etc. However, SharePoint Online simplifies it all by removing the need to deploy, configure, monitor, update or upgrade an installation on your premises. You can use the Online Services Administration Center to create new sites, install solutions, and provide access to specific users.

Small and medium-sized businesses can now take advantage of the same enterprise-grade technologies that are available to larger companies, without having to take on the operational and hardware infrastructure necessary to host SharePoint on-site.

A common mis-conception about using this product concerns custom development. SharePoint Online does not change your ability to customize your environment so that it meets your business needs. Developers, designers, and analysts can modify the SharePoint Online environment by using many of the same tools and techniques that you would use for an on-site deployment, such as Visual Studio and SharePoint Designer.

For instance, using Visual Studio the developer arsenal includes: sandboxed solutions, SharePoint Server ribbon, SharePoint dialog boxes, Silverlight web parts, LINQ to SharePoint, event & workflow enhancements, client object model, and REST APIs. Sandboxed solutions, Microsoft Silverlight support, and the new client object model alone enable powerful custom solutions to be installed on SharePoint Online. In addition, developers can now also utilize the Visual Studio 2010 SharePoint Power Tools, which include many features that make the development process easier. These tools perform compile-time checking to ensure namespaces and classes are supported as well as enable you to deploy artifacts in sandboxed solutions that would otherwise be disallowed. For example, you can create and package sandboxed versions of Visual Web Parts. You can even use jQuery via a Content Editor Web Part to further enhance your environment.

In addition to Visual Studio support, you can further customize your environment with SharePoint Designer. With Designer you can create and deploy no-code workflows, customize content types, brand MasterPages, create page layouts and site templates, create browser-based forms, and so much more. SharePoint Designer is the perfect choice for rapid development of SharePoint applications for advanced users, site designers, and developers. With this tool you can construct no-code solutions from the building blocks available in SharePoint 2010. In addition, you can use Designer to get a quick start on your development projects. SharePoint Online also provides the site collection administrator with the option to enable or disable various SharePoint Designer features, or completely, based on a users access.

SharePoint Online provides a platform on which you can build solutions to meet your business needs. Not only does it offer a fast and simple way to get up and running on SharePoint, it allows customizations from modifying and extending your site collections by using SharePoint Designer, to deploying custom code solutions that you create by using Visual Studio 2010.

For more information on custom development using SharePoint online, visit the SharePoint Online Developer Resource Center.