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Microsoft Adds 'Coauthoring' to SkyDrive Version of Word Web Apps

Microsoft announced on Thursday that it has improved the document collaboration capabilities in its Word Web App service on SkyDrive.

The new document collaboration interface will indicate if someone is working on a document by popping up a screen note. It also marks the section that's being altered. Microsoft calls this approach "coauthoring," but it's not a real-time approach. Users can identify who is modifying which section of a document, but a refresh is required to actually show what was changed.

If a user edits a document and saves the changes, all of the changes -- including those made by other collaborators -- will be shown at that time. The changes are highlighted in a green screen text.

For those who want to see others' changes in real time as they work, Microsoft recommends using its OneNote Web App, which uses that approach. Microsoft took a different approach with its Word Web App on SkyDrive based on user feedback on how people like to collaborate on documents, according to the company's announcement.

The new coauthoring feature in Office Web Apps for SkyDrive was already available in Office 2010 and Office for Mac 2011, according to Microsoft. Now it works with the Windows Live SkyDrive service, which is a free consumer cloud-based storage service providing up to 25 GB of file space.

Windows Live SkyDrive is the successor to Office Live Workspace, which served mostly as a place to store documents, synchronize changes and share files created using premises-installed copies of Microsoft Office. The old Office Live Workspace system lacked the new document collaboration features available now in the SkyDrive version.

Microsoft describes how its new SkyDrive collaboration interface works in this blog, which provides screenshot examples and a video. The collaboration improvements in SkyDrive represent a step forward for Microsoft in light of its competition with Google in the on-demand productivity suite space. In March of last year, Google bought DocVerse, using that company's technology to enhance the collaboration capabilities of Google Docs apps.

Microsoft announced last month that it has rebuilt some of its SkyDrive services, basing them more on emerging HTML 5 technologies. Microsoft is also positioning SkyDrive as a linking point for other devices. For instance, SkyDrive will support the "Mango" Windows Phone 7 update coming this fall, facilitating the storage and access of multimedia files in the Internet cloud.

Office Web Apps currently lack the full functionality of the on-premises Microsoft Office versions. Microsoft's progress in improving Office Web App functionality has tended come incrementally and slowly. The hosted apps are free for consumers to use by signing up to use Microsoft Windows Live services. However, organizations will need Windows Server 2008 and SharePoint licensing to use them. Organizations get access to Office Web Apps via Microsoft Office 2007 and Microsoft Office 2010.

In late June, Microsoft released Service Pack 1 for Office Web Apps 2010, which is available via the Microsoft Download Center. This new service pack is a rollup of previously released updates, plus a few improvements, which are described here. Some of the more notable advances in SP1, which apply to all of the Office Web Apps, are OpenDocument Format support, Google Chrome browser support, and the ability to view attachments in the Exchange Online version of the Outlook Web App.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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