Microsoft Declares War on Email Attachments With Outlook Web App Update

In its bid to promote collaboration, Microsoft enables in-browser editing of Office file attachments in the browser-based Outlook app.


Microsoft is cutting a few steps out of the process of working with email attachments with a new update for Outlook Web App users.

The company has rolled out a new document collaboration feature, announced Microsoft Exchange's Steve Chew, senior product marketing manager, and Joey Masterson, senior program manager. As its name suggests, Outlook Web App (OWA) is the company's Web-based version of the Office 365 email and calendar software, accessible via a Web browser and Internet-connected device.

Outlook Web App now spares users the need to download Office attachments, fire up Word, Excel or PowerPoint, save and reattach the files. It's a procedure that "requires multiple steps and context switches, which can be distracting and time-consuming," observed Chew and Masterson in an Office Blogs post.

Microsoft, in its quest to minimize the well-worn tradition of alt-tabbing between applications, has enabled in-browser editing. Going forward, users can "edit a document straight from Outlook Web App and attach this edited document to an email response in just a few clicks," they said.

Clicking on an attachment generates a preview of the file, right alongside the email itself. It's a time-saving feature that eliminates "flipping back and forth between windows to get all the information you need," added the Microsoft bloggers.

Standard messaging actions like replying and forwarding are preserved in this view. In addition to Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, users can preview PDF files and "most types" of image formats, according to an accompanying FAQ.

The file preview pane also acts as a springboard to the new in-browser editing experience.

Clicking the Edit a Copy option that appears above the email message sets a few steps in motion. A draft Reply-All message is automatically created, which is used to store the edited version of the attachment.

From there, Outlook Web App creates a new editable copy of the attachment and appends the user's name to the end of the filename. "This way, you can differentiate the new copy of the file from the original one." Changes are automatically saved as a user makes changes to the attachments. Microsoft cautions that the editing features only work with Word, Excel and PowerPoint files created in Office 2007 or above.

The process is complete when a user types out a reply in the messaging pane and hits Send. Outlook Web App attaches the edited file and delivers it to the recipient.

The result is a new, productivity-boosting inbox experience. Chew and Masterson claimed that users "can now edit the attachment and reply with changes all in a single action." Other perks include larger, "better looking" file previews and the ability to download multiple files as a single compressed ZIP file.

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...