PleaseTech blog

We aim to provide useful, pertinent and sometimes fun insights into the world of document collaboration and the workings of a technology company

Office and SharePoint 2016 appear to be moving in the correct direction - for us

Posted by David Cornwell on 16. October 2015 10:34

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.

So now we know what is happening with respect to co-authoring in Word 2016 when combined with SharePoint or OneDrive.

Microsoft has gone for 'real-time co-authoring'.

How does this work? Well, to quote from Word's Office Blog post: “when two or more users …. open the same Word document from OneDrive they can co-author with others in real-time, which allows them to see the cursor location and text edits made by the other users automatically appear as they happen”. The same is true for SharePoint 2016.

Microsoft has obviously taken their lead from Google as ITPro demonstrates by saying, “The move should bring a major advantage to Microsoft over Google’s Google Docs when Office 2016 is released ……”. Interestingly, its justification for this advantage is that it brings co-authoring to the desktop version of Word.

Some commentators are being brutally realistic. I particularly like Office Watch when they say:

“If you’re having a touch of ‘déjà vu’ right now … it's not your imagination. Microsoft has announced document collaboration so, so many times over the years. But each time the press falls for it and parrot the Microsoft hype. Sigh.

Document collaboration isn’t new in Office.  For some years, two or more people have been able to open the same document and edit it at the same time.

What’s changed is the level of detail in displaying changes to the other users online.  In Office 2013 if you edited a paragraph, that paragraph was locked out for other editors until you’d finished.  Then the paragraph changes were pushed out to the other editors.

In Office 2016, it’s more detailed with edits appearing to other users in what Microsoft calls ‘real time’.   Co-authors can see text edits and even the cursor position of other editors as they all work on a document.”

They go on to add:

“Nitpickers will know that ‘real time’ really means ‘as fast as possible’ which is fast enough.  The speed that updates show to other editors depends on the speed of the various Internet connections and the hosting server.  Our informal tests, with side-by-side computers, suggest that ‘real time’ really means about ’10-20 seconds’.  That’s more than adequate for document collaboration.”

Others are waxing lyrical over this.  John Brandon writes in a ComputerWorld article:

“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 ….” He continues: “ …. brainstorming sessions with a few writers in one document working in tandem is an enjoyable and highly productive experience …...”.

So let’s get back to reality and work out whether this is going to revolutionize the world of document creation.

I doubt that there are many in the corporate sphere who believe that one person adding a paragraph and another making a quick correction in real time is either enjoyable or particularly productive. I fully accept John’s position that, if you are genuinely brainstorming and simply downloading ideas to the page then it may, and I stress may, be useful. But is it really more useful than existing Word co-authoring?

Remember, the only real limitation of the current Office 2010/2013 functionality is that it locks edited paragraphs until the editor ‘saves’ the changes. With Word 2016 many people can simultaneously edit the same paragraph. But, when you stop and think, you’d soon settle on the fact that several users not being able to simultaneously edit exactly the same paragraph is not a major limitation when they could be editing adjacent paragraphs.

Sure, there may be a few converts from Google Docs who are using the Google platform because simultaneously editing exactly the same paragraph is critical for their business process, but I’m finding it hard to think of examples.

What about control? What about the document owner? What about reporting? What about accountability?

This co-authoring functionality offered by Word 2016 (in conjunction with SharePoint 2016 or OneDrive) is what we call ‘uncontrolled co-authoring’. This means anyone can materially edit anywhere in the document. I can delete your stuff, you can delete my stuff and we can all gang up on poor Fred and delete his stuff. No traceability, no accountability, no responsibility.

Our position is quite simply that this type of uncontrolled real-time co-authoring works for specific business processes if you have a small team of trained, rational and courteous users.

So nothing changes our view that SharePoint is fine for casual, light usage. A bit of brainstorming here and there perhaps. However, for industrial strength document review and co-authoring, you are going to need more control and not a co-authoring space with no audit trail and where anything goes.

Thousands of documents, multiple reviewers, potentially hundreds of comments – that’s the reality of the world we and our clients live in. To manage this control is the key. Control of the process but also control of ‘who can do what to where’ in the document.

So, our conclusion is threefold:

1.   Those happy with the current Word/SharePoint uncontrolled co-authoring will continue to be happy with it and will probably welcome this enhancement;

2.   Those struggling with the current Word/SharePoint uncontrolled co-authoring will continue to struggle in the naïve belief that it’s the Microsoft way or the highway – a position unfortunately adopted by many IT departments desperate to justify their investment in Sharepoint;

3.   No-one is going to abandon PleaseReview and rush to the new functionality because the current advantages PleaseReview has over SharePoint for collaborative document review and co-authoring remain. 

Of course, anyone wishing to adopt this brave new land of, this time, real simultaneous co-authoring will have to wait a while anyway. Not only will they need Word 2016 but also SharePoint 2016 (or OneDrive) as Microsoft is quite clear that “Word 2016 co-authoring fails when the file is stored on SharePoint 2013” and the recommended solution is to turn it off with a registry fix!

So, as my title suggests, Office and SharePoint 2016 appear to be moving in the correct direction – for us!


header bg