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One year later, Microsoft Office's collaboration tools are still a work in progress

Ian Paul | March 11, 2014
Driven by competition from Google Apps, Microsoft's new approach to Office focuses on making your documents available to you everywhere and facilitating easy collaboration and file sharing.

microsoft collaboration

With the introduction of Office 365 Home Premium last year, Microsoft radically changed the way it delivers Office to consumers. Instead of just offering an Office suite that includes a varied number of applications priced anywhere from $140-$400, the software maker wagered you'd pay $100 per year to get access to all of the Office apps and the right to install them on up to 5 PCs, plus extra Skype minutes and OneDrive storage.

The addition of Skype and OneDrive isn't just a frill. Driven by competition from Google Apps, Microsoft's new approach to Office focuses on making your documents available to you everywhere and facilitating easy collaboration and file sharing.

So now that we're one year into this new era of Microsoft Office, how is the suite doing? How well do the desktop, Web, and mobile apps work together to keep you productive no matter where you are?

To find out, we adjusted our workflow to rely solely on Office 2013, Office Online and Office Mobile for Android (Office 365 Home Premium subscription required). Here's how we found the current state of Office collaboration for working together in real time, maintaining a canonical version of your collaborative document, and editing files on the go.

Simple sharing and live collaboration
The last time we looked at live collaboration in Office, we said that Microsoft wanted to "empower people to collaborate on documents, but its new Office suites don't make things easy."

Little has changed on this front, although there has been one major improvement. Microsoft's Web apps, recently renamed Office Online, now feature live typing. If both you and your fellow editors are working on a document together, you will see document changes as they happen.

Live collaboration on the desktop, however, is trickier. The main problem is that while Office 2013 desktop apps connect to the cloud, their collaboration features don't behave the same way as the Web-based applications do.

When you start collaborating from the desktop, a pop-up notification appears at the bottom of the app to alert you that someone else is editing the document. But in our tests in Word, Excel, and OneNote, several minutes passed before the desktop user received the notification. In some cases, changes to the document were available before we were notified that another person was editing the document.

Sending and receiving changes is also problematic, because each involves a different method. To send changes to OneDrive where your fellow collaborators can see them, you simply press save, and that automatically pushes your changes to the cloud. But to receive changes made by another editor, you have to wait until an "updates available" notification appears in the bottom right of the window and then click it. Until you do that, not even saving your document will pull down those recent changes from OneDrive.

 

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