Office Online's Skype Chat Features Soon to Work With SharePoint Files

Office Online's Skype-powered chat capabilities are coming to files stored on SharePoint and OneDrive for Business. Skype Translator, meanwhile, learns yet another language.

Skype SharePoint 2

Skype-enhanced co-authoring, one of Office Online's signature collaboration features, will soon work with files on SharePoint and OneDrive for Business, Nikhil Nathwani, a program manager for Microsoft's Office Core team revealed in a blog post.

Microsoft first enabled Skype Group chats in Office Online in late 2014, which allowed users to discuss changes to Office documents with co-authors. Instant messaging histories remain connected to a given document, allowing users to pick up where they left off and regroup after a break or the end of the workday.

The company followed up last year by integrating Skype voice and video, allowing users to take an even more conversational approach to their co-authoring stints.

While handy, Skype chat functionality in Office Online has a major downside for enterprises. It only works with Office files including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, stored on OneDrive, Microsoft's consumer-grade cloud file storage, data synchronization and share service, reminded Nathwani. However, Microsoft will soon switch on the feature for customers that use SharePoint and OneDrive for Business instead, he said.

In the meantime, Microsoft is providing co-authors with an easier way to switch between text chats, voice calls and video chats. Skype chat participants can now turn instant message conversations into group voice or video calls by clicking on new icons that appear at the top of the chat pane.

Over at Skype, Microsoft announced a major new addition to its real-time language translation today.

Skype Translator now speaks Arabic. "Specifically, we are releasing Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) which is used in the Middle East and Northern Africa as a standard form of the Arabic language," said Microsoft's Skype group in a March 8 announcement.

"Unlike dialects which may vary greatly from country to country, MSA is used throughout the Arab-speaking world in written and formal communications. This version of Arabic is taught in schools and used by journalists, for example."

In addition to extending Skype Translator's reach, Arabic language support—spoken by an estimated 200 million people and is the official language of 22 countries, according to Microsoft—helps the company further break down language barriers in the name of personal and professional productivity.

The addition of Arabic increases the number of supported languages to eight, enabling voice and video communications between any pairing of those languages. To date, they include Arabic, English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese (Mandarin), Italian and Portuguese. Arabic is also available as a language option in the Microsoft Translator apps on Android or iOS.

Microsoft was able to overcome the challenges of developing speech recognition and translation technologies for a complex language like Arabic with an innovative new language system from researchers at the company's Advanced Technology Laboratory in Cairo, Egypt.

Natural language processing researchers there incorporated data from talk shows and social media into their models, helping to reduce the word error rate of Arabic translations.

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...