Microsoft opens up co-authoring to third-party file sharing vendors. Take that, Google Docs

In a boon to users of Box, Dropbox, Egnyte and Citrix Sharefile, Microsoft is opening up co-authoring for these users.

James Niccolai/IDGNS

I remember half a dozen years ago when I saw, for the first time, a document being authored by multiple people, in multiple locations, simultaneously. What Google Docs enabled was kind of like rocket science, admittedly in a rather geeky way. All of a sudden the traditional model of emailing files backwards and forwards was replaced by something more like a real world way of working. Of course, sometimes that ability gets a little skewed and we've all probably seen crazy examples of simultaneously created documents going wild. But for the most part, it's awesome.

It's also one of the biggest differentiators between the other file synchronization and sharing vendors and Google. Because Google has its own document creation and file-sharing components, it can enable this sort of stuff. For a Box or Dropbox, this isn't the case.

Until today. Microsoft is announcing the availability of co-authoring for Office to a select group of vendors from within its Cloud Storage Partner Program. This announcement will be a big deal for businesses as they will now have a viable alternative to Google Drive if they want real-time collaboration. It will also be another blow to Google who has lost the massive advantage it had against all-comers in the cloud-based document creation world.

The importance of this cannot be underestimated. Microsoft Office has over 1.2 billion users worldwide. Now it is fair to say that many of those users are individuals and have no need for co-authoring, but for a significant subset of them, this move is important and opens up an entirely new line of business opportunity for the anointed vendors -- Box, Dropbox, Egnyte and Citrix Shapefile are all in the program as of day one.

It also has to be said that there is a significant greenfield opportunity here -- according to some studies, less than 10 percent of enterprise data is stored in a public cloud. What this means for vendors that enable a hybrid cloud storage approach (which, in this case, is Egnyte and Citrix) all of a sudden they can offer co-authoring to customers who need hybrid storage. And this is appealing to customers. Witness one education institution's comment:

"Technology is always advancing the way we work, which positively impacts our operational efficiency,” said Paul Creed III, technology project director at Kent State University. “Our Microsoft Office Online users can view, create and collaborate on documents stored in the cloud via Egnyte using the Microsoft or Egnyte Web interfaces. The ability to use existing applications -- that are familiar and part of everyday workflows -- in conjunction with our Egnyte account has improved productivity in such a seamless way, which allows our staff to focus on the task at hand."

It's also a big move for Microsoft that shows how the company is continuing to mature and expand its understanding of what working with competitors looks like. A good perspective on this from one person inside the industry:

“Gone are the days when a single company becomes a one-stop shop for every possible solution. Businesses are entertaining multiple technology offerings and selecting best-of-breed solutions that work seamlessly together,” said Isabelle Guis, chief strategy officer of Egnyte. “The invitation from Microsoft to be part of this select group of launch partners provides our customers choice -- validating the prevalence of on-premises file storage and the need for Egnyte’s unique hybrid offering. This announcement also aligns well with our strategy to partner with industry leaders like Microsoft to innovate in ways that serve our shared customer base and create a richer end user experience."

Happy days for these four file-sharing vendors and happy days for all the potential customers out there.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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