Collaborative Editing in Office 365 Web Apps

One of the biggest reasons that so many small businesses use Google Apps as their productivity suite is because of the robust options for collaborative document authoring.  Many coworkers can have the same document or spreadsheet open and simultaneously make changes to it allowing for efficient teamwork. Back in June, Microsoft announced that it would introduce real-time collaborative editing into the Office 365 Web Apps, and now those features are ready for you and your business to use.
Let’s take a look at the different types of co-authoring that Microsoft has defined.
Semiformal Co-authoring
Web Apps: OneNote, Excel
Common Uses: Brainstorming sessions, meeting minutes, research notes, training courses
This type of co-authoring should be used when all authors need to instantly see any content changes in real-time. Colored icons and cursors are used to denote which user is working where in the document or spreadsheet. Each content chunk is tagged with the author’s name which allows you to search through the content by author. These features are useful for joint data entry in a time crunch or tedious analytical work on different parts of a worksheet.
Formal Co-authoring
Web Apps: Word, PowerPoint
Common Uses: Report writing, proposals, meeting presentations
The primary difference with formal co-authoring is in how changes to the document or presentation are made visible to the co-authors. While you can still see who else is working on a document and where they are on the page, formal co-authoring only reveals your edits and changes to everyone else after you perform a save. That way you expose completed thoughts and ideas in a more organized and methodical manner. It’s also important to note that this allows formal co-authoring to be fully compatible with commenting, track changes and even document versioning through SharePoint Online.
Locating Active Documents on SkyDrive

Keep in mind that unless you are the owner of a document it will not show up in your SkyDrive. When a document is initially shared for collaboration, an invite email is sent out to the co-authors which includes the link that is required to access that document. You could bookmark this link, but a better approach is to use the Follow feature by clicking a link in the original invite email. You can access Followed documents and Follow others from SkyDrive Online as shown below. This makes it much easier to get back to those active projects without hassle.

Troubleshooting Co-authoring

If for some reason you are unable to co-author an Office document properly, below is a list of items you can check to ensure compatibility with Microsoft’s co-authoring system and correct the issue.

  • Marked as Final – If the document owner has marked a file as final it is changed to read-only and co-authoring is disabled.
  • Checked out – Make sure that the file is not checked out of a SharePoint library. The co-authoring features in Office 365 cannot be used on a document that is checked out as this feature is designed to prevent changes by more than one person.
  • File Format – The file must be saved in Office 2010 format or newer (docx, xlsx, pptx, etc).
  • Encryption – If a document is encrypted in any way, co-authoring will not work.
  • Objects – Any objects which cannot be uniquely identified, such as OLE objects, SmartArt graphics or Ink objects must be removed.
  • Structure – Word documents will be incompatible if they use a master document with subdocuments, contain HTML Framesets or if they are currently published as a blog.
  • ActiveX Controls – Co-authoring will be disabled if a document contains ActiveX controls.