Microsoft previews real-time co-authoring in Office Web Apps

Microsoft's webified Office will catch up to some of Google's Docs collaboration features.

Over the next few months, Microsoft will roll out improved collaboration features in Office Web Apps that will enable real-time co-authoring on desktop browsers and improved editing in Android and iOS devices.

Microsoft has lifted the covers on a pre-release version of its Office Web Apps that will deliver presence to co-authored documents and real-time edits that are updated on the go without the need to refresh the page.

Real-time co-authoring has been possible on the desktop-installed versions of Office since 2010, but richer collaboration capabilities have been missing from its stripped down web version.

The updates, expected "over the coming months", will enable cell-level real-time co-authoring in Excel, and real-time editing in Word and PowerPoint.

In a new demonstration of the pre-release web apps on a notebook, Microsoft showed off that the updates will offer more than just real-time text-co-authoring and include document formatting and design elements.

For example, while including co-authored tables to a document is possible today, the new version will allow collaborators to make live formatting changes, such as fonts. Presence features allow contributors to see where they are in a document.

In Excel, collaborators will be able view which cells are being updated as they occur, as well as changes these cause in cell-dependent charts.

The future updates will also extend document editing capabilities currently supported on Windows 8 tablets and iPads to Android devices, thanks to Chrome for mobile support; though it's not clear whether real-time co-authoring is on the list for mobile.

Microsoft announced in May that Office Web Apps will get a number of new collaboration features "over the next year", but it is not been more specific than that.

According to ZDNet's Windows blogger Mary Jo Foley , the first wave of updates to Office Web Apps are expected to come by around October 2013 and timed to coincide with the release of Windows Blue.