Microsoft Office 2016 ushers in the age of co-authoring

The desktop version of Office 2016 (and therefore Word 2016) comes out next week, on Sept. 22, and there's one big feature you will really like.

word 2016

There’s something really satisfying about working on a business document with another person or in a group. The thoughts often come together in unison. One person adds a paragraph, another person makes a quick correction. It’s about as close to having a video chat as you can get, minus the awkward pauses, bad lighting and jittery video when one person connects from a coffee shop.

I’ve been using Google Docs for a few years now, and brainstorming sessions with a few writers in one document working in tandem is an enjoyable and highly productive experience. You can chat using inline messaging and let one person take a crack at a few lines of text while you see exactly what they’re doing. It’s amazing to be so collaborative.

Next week. on Sept. 22, Microsoft will release the final version of Office 2016 desktop suite with an eye toward making co-authoring in Microsoft Word even easier. I really like how this release, which I’ve tested using a preview version, shows a colored flag next to the person who is co-authoring. You can not only see what someone is typing, but even see their cursor position.

Of course, there’s a reason this is such big news. As a former corporate manager, I remember the days of having to use the approved apps in a company. My team sometimes bucked the system and tried to use a Mac loaded with some weird document editing program, but we were quickly corralled back into the fold. Many large companies only use Microsoft productivity apps for the desktop, and it saves a lot of headaches with compatibility and support. The online versions of Office already support co-authoring, but that suite is not as feature-rich or as widely used.

It’s worth noting that there are a few limitations to how co-authoring in Office 2016 works. First, you need to store the document on OneDrive or SharePoint Online, and those who want to co-author with you also need to use Office 2016. In my preview version, co-authoring was only available in Word 2016, although I’ve heard the features will roll out to PowerPoint and Excel eventually. You also have to make sure the additional users have edit permissions.

This may be the tipping point for co-authoring. The desktop apps have stood the test of time — I still have a few friends in the enterprise space who swear by them and don’t like the clunky nature of using Web apps for real productivity work like creating a business plan. When they get their hands on co-authoring next week, it might be a real game-changer for them.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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