Microsoft has added real-time co-authoring to Office Web Apps. The new functionality, announced Wednesday, matches the collaboration feature that was first offered in the competing Google Docs about three years ago.
The new capability allows authors to edit documents simultaneously in the cloud in the Word Web App, PowerPoint Web App or Excel Web App. A real-time presence feature allows users to see where co-authors are working at the same time, so as to avoid conflicts during editing, and changes to text and formatting by a user and by colleagues are shown immediately.
Office Web Apps are free, online alternatives to the on-premises Office suite, providing the core functionality of the key apps.
In its announcement Wednesday on the official Office 365 blog, technical product marketing manager Amanda Lefebvre pointed out that, if a teammate isn't available to work when everyone else is, he can make changes either online when possible, or with the Office applications on his computer. Saving the document will then sync the changes with the same file in the cloud, bringing him up to speed with the rest of the team.
In addition to real-time co-authoring, Microsoft has updated formatting controls in the online Word Web App. The new features include the ability to find and replace words, apply styles and formatting to tables, and insert headers/footers.
The Excel Web App now has the ability to drag and drop cells, reorder sheets, and display range of like sum or count in the status bar. There's also support for more workbook types. Picture cropping has been added to the PowerPoint Web App, and all of the Office Web Apps now allow users to change the name of files within the editing window.
'Relevancy and Importance'
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said this additional co-authoring functionality helps the Office suite retain "its relevancy and importance" in its competition against Google Docs. But, he added, the importance of the Office apps has now become "more about the value of the surrounding services," such as Skype or SkyDrive.
Last month, Forrester released a survey of 155 IT professionals who determine what software their companies use. As Forrester analyst Philipp Karcher told news media at the time, Microsoft Office "still has a stranglehold in this market" and added that "things haven't really changed."
In fact, the study indicated that Google Docs and other cloud-based suites, available through a browser, are used most commonly as a lightweight complement to computer-based Microsoft Office, not as a substitute. Users' key requirement for productivity applications, according to the report, is compatibility with Microsoft Office so that files can be opened, viewed and worked on between Office and a non-Office app. Only 13 percent of respondents use Google Docs either by itself or as a complement, and Microsoft Office Web Apps was used by 9 percent.