Microsoft Beefs Up Office Web App Collaboration Features

Online, real-time group editing comes to Office Web apps with new co-authoring capabilities that deliver changes to users' screens as they happen.

Microsoft is making it easier for far-flung colleagues to work together on Office documents by switching on new live, multiuser editing features on the cloud-delivered versions of its productivity apps.

The feature was first previewed in May by Amanda Lefebvre, a Microsoft product marketing manager. "We'll introduce real time co-authoring in the Office Web Apps so that all file authors will automatically see presence and edits from others as they happen without needing to refresh. This is a subtle change, but a great enhancement to enable even richer collaboration," she predicted.

Months later, users can finally put the technology through its paces and watch edits to Word and Excel Web App documents as they happen (the capability has already been activated for the PowerPoint Web App). "With the introduction of real-time co-authoring, the Office collaboration experience takes your ability to work with others to the next level," wrote Lefebvre in an Office 365 Technology blog post.

Offline changes, even if they are made using Office desktop software, are synced automatically. Group users, she said, "get the collaborative power of the Web with the feature depth of the desktop applications on your PC, or Mac, for a no compromise collaboration experience."

Alluding to the platform's mobile-friendly attributes, she added that "Office provides you the tools to work together in ways that fit your needs," whether users work offline or online, "from the Web, desktop, a Windows tablet or iPad."

Microsoft is also making progress on its efforts to close the features gap between the Web App and packaged versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The Word Web App, for example, now includes the "ability to find and replace words and phrases, apply styles and formatting to tables, and insert headers and footers for more professional reports and papers," informed Lefebvre. Other new features include auto-save, page breaks and page numbering.

Excel Web App users can now reorder sheets and drag and drop cells. Support has been added for more workbook types, workbook renaming and sheet protection. Further, it provides "a quick analysis of a range of data right in the status bar, including sum, count, and average of a selected range of cells."

Finally, the PowerPoint Web App supports file renaming within the editing window and picture cropping tools.

Currently, Lefebvre's team is working on plugging a big hole in terms of OS support. She reported that Microsoft is "still on track to enable editing from Android tablets, so you can access Office files and tools from even more devices."

She also suggested that her company is inching its way toward delivering for users a closed-loop, completely cloud-powered Office experience. Lefebvre wrote, "We'll continue to bring the Office features that you value most to the Web so you can more easily create Office files from start to finish online."

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...