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Microsoft Adds Coauthoring to Office Web Apps

Microsoft is delivering most of the improvements to its Office Web Apps that it promised back in June.

For instance, one of the improvements, called "real-time coauthoring," will be available "within the next few days" for all users of Office Web Apps that have SkyDrive or Office 365 accounts, according to Microsoft's announcement on Thursday. Real-time coauthoring works for the Excel, PowerPoint and Word Office Web Apps, allowing an author to see the editing work of others in a document. The edits can be seen nearly as they occur, as indicated by a highlighted cursor in a document.

Office Web Apps are browser-enabled versions of Microsoft Office applications, although they are fairly stripped down compared with the full applications found in the Microsoft Office suite. Microsoft's engineering team has been slowly adding features to Office Web Apps or improving existing features, such as the coauthoring improvement. It used to require a browser refresh to see collaboration changes when using coauthoring.

Office Web Apps and Microsoft Office applications work together. They have the capability to synchronize changes, so that offline changes made to a document in Microsoft Office will update to the cloud when users go online.

A new capability added to this November Office Web Apps update is an auto-save capability. All of the Office Web Apps now constantly save a user's changes. The Excel Web App, for instance, doesn't have a close button because any changes made to a spreadsheet workbook get saved automatically. Users can just close the browser, without having to save the file.

Microsoft also added the ability to drag and drop cells in an Excel Web App, as well as the ability to reorder sheets in a workbook. All of the new Excel Web App improvements are described here.

On the Word Web App side, Microsoft added the ability to set headers and footers, page numbering and page breaks. There's a new find-and-replace function and a new gallery of table formatting styles to apply. The new Word Web App improvements are listed at this page.

Office Web Apps are free to use by consumers, typically in conjunction with a no-cost SkyDrive online file storage account. However, organizations are required to purchase the use of Office Web Apps, either through an Office 365 account or SharePoint Server licensing.

SharePoint Server implementations that support Office Web Apps will have the option to use Microsoft's Office Web Server to host them. The next release of the Office Web Server is yet to ship, according to Microsoft spokesperson Dan Battagin.

"The next release of the Office Web Apps Server will come around the same time that the next release of Office ships (still TBD)," Battagin wrote in the comments section of an Excel team blog post. "For now, the best way to take advantage is SkyDrive or Office 365!"

Microsoft's Office Web Apps have different functionality on tablets vs. smartphones. On tablets, Microsoft enables the editing capabilities, while viewing is the main functionality on smartphones, as illustrated in this Microsoft TechNet library article.

Microsoft's announcement on Thursday indicated that its team is "still on track to enable editing from Android tablets" for Office files, as promised back in June, along with iOS tablet support. However, using Microsoft's Outlook Web App will require that organizations or individuals have an Office 365 subscription for Exchange Online in order to get e-mail.

Separate from the Office Web Apps, an Office App for the iPad is in the works, according to outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, in an October interview with Gartner. Ballmer had suggested the Office App for iPad wouldn't get developed until Microsoft had first created a "touch-first user interface for Word, Excel and PowerPoint." He offered no timeline for when that might take place.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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