Microsoft Shares Early Look at Office 365 Cross-Platform Collaboration

Upcoming versions of Office Web Apps will look and act more like their PC-based counterparts and offer collaborative co-authoring experiences across PCs and more mobile devices.

Microsoft is working on making it tough to distinguish between Office 365 on the PC and its cloud-delivered, browser-based Web apps by narrowing the features gap.

After previewing Office 365 Blog. She said Microsoft's "goal is really to continue to retain the experience users are already familiar with. "We don’t think it should be any different just because you are on the Web," she said.

Office 365 is Microsoft's subscription-based productivity software offering that blends installable applications for PC and Mac with Web-based apps and online file synchronization, sharing and storage capabilities. On June 14, the company released native Office apps for the iPhone, but only for Office 365 users.

Rather than just mimic the desktop experience, Lefebvre said that Office 365's cloud-enabled capabilities allow for new collaborative usage models. "The fact for example that in Excel users will be able to co-author at a cell level and output charts and analysis real-time goes beyond even typical desktop usage scenarios today," she said.

In an accompanying YouTube video she stressed that "one of the big things we care about in the Word Web app—or in all the Web Apps—is fidelity." Within her Internet Explorer browser window, she scrolled down a paragraph- and graphics-laden Word document to show off the "high-fidelity view of the document."

Lefebvre pointed out that the new version will offer features like Find and Replace, along with tools for editing headers, footers, footnotes and tables. She also revealed that Freeze Panes, Autofill and Data Validation are headed for the Excel Web app. PowerPoint is set to get Smart Art.

In Lefebvre's side-by-side demonstration, changes to Office documents were reflected in the co-author's browser in near real time. The co-author, in turn, can edit, add and manipulate elements while other participants are making changes of their own.

As Microsoft rolls out these features "over the next several months," collaborating on Office documents will take on a new sense of responsiveness and immediacy, she predicted.

"Real-time co-authoring is going to be a great addition allowing for more dynamic and fluid authoring that gets rid of the need to hit the save button in order to populate changes made by others. It’s also great to see the merging of both the Web and desktop worlds with the ability to work offline too," wrote Lefebvre.

To demonstrate the pre-release code's co-authoring capabilities across different platforms, Microsoft enlisted local New Orleans band Remedy Krewe. In a pre-filmed segment, the band was shown collaborating on the lyrics of a song using Office Web Apps on a Windows Phone, laptop and tablet.

Lefebvre hinted that Office Web Apps will soon offer better support for the mobile ecosystem at large. "You’ll also start to see more of our broad cross platform browser investments come to fruition pretty soon. For example, the latest advancements in the Chrome mobile browser mean that we can now enable editing from Android tablets," she said.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...