Microsoft Previews Real-Time Co-authoring on Office Web Apps

Microsoft gives Office Web Apps users the ability to see changes to Office files as soon as they occur. The company also weighs in on Adobe's plan to go subscription-only.

Building on a strategy of releasing a steady trickle of updates for its cloud offerings, Microsoft previewed a few upcoming features that are being added to Office Web Apps, the browser-based Web component of the Office 365 product that delivers online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

Real-time co-authoring support is coming to the Web-based version of Office, announced Amanda Lefebvre, a product marketing manager for Microsoft. Currently switched on for PowerPoint users, the capability is meant to improve the experience of editing Office files and documents in collaborative, multiuser scenarios.

"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," wrote Lefebvre in an Office 365 Blog post.

An accompanying video shows how changes made in a PowerPoint presentation by one user instantly show up in the other's browser window. Edits appear as soon as they are registered, even if the users are in different views. For instance, a scene depicts one of the document's authors modifying the contents of a bullet list while another sees the changes appear in a preview with the final formatting.

Lefebvre added that Microsoft is working to improve performance and bring the capability to other apps. "In the next few months you'll see PowerPoint Web App co-authoring get even faster and real time co-authoring support in the other Office Web Apps," she informed.

Users of Android tablets like the popular Nexus 7 or Samsung Galaxy Tab will soon be able to join their iPad-toting colleagues in editing Office Web apps. "The full power of the Office Web Apps is already available for Windows 8 tablets and iPads and we will be extending the same capabilities to Android tablets via mobile Chrome browser support," stated Lefebvre.

Despite these and other efforts to beef up its Office cloud, Microsoft signaled that the company isn't giving up on its packaged software business any time soon.

In response to Adobe's recent headline-grabbing announcement, Microsoft spokesman Clint Patterson indicated that the company will continue to provide Office on a non-subscription basis. On May 6, during the Adobe MAX conference in Los Angeles, the maker of Photoshop software announced that it was switching to an all-subscription model based on Creative Cloud.

"We launched Creative Cloud a year ago, and it has been a runaway success. By focusing our energy—and our talented engineers—on Creative Cloud, we're able to put innovation in our members' hands at a much faster pace," said David Wadhwani, senior vice president and general manager of Digital Media at Adobe.

While Microsoft may share Adobe's view that "subscription software-as-a-service is the future," Patterson suggested in a blog post that Adobe's move is premature, adding that "we think people's shift from packaged software to subscription services will take time."

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...