Collaborating In Microsoft's Word 2016 Preview: Hands-On

Just yesterday, Microsoft launched the Office 2016 Preview, and with it came a couple of new features. These include stronger improved data analysis in Excel, flexible deployment for admins, added security features, and more. Today, we take a look at a more pressing feature though – the collaborative editing.

In today's world, many group projects are done with some form of collaborative editing, where multiple users edit a single document all at the same time. There are a handful of collaborative editing tools available today, with Google Docs setting the standard.

Of course, it is widely known that Google Docs is great for editing text or simple spreadsheets in groups, but formatting in Google Docs is still a bit dodgy, so most groups will find themselves simply working on the raw text in there, and when it is done, having one member of the group move the content to a better text editor for the final makeup.  

Because of formatting problems, when Microsoft announced collaborative editing in Word we were quite excited, because this may just make it the ultimate go-to text editor for group work, taking the throne from Google. 

So, I fired up the Office 2016 Preview installation, which went smooth as butter. The only hitch I experienced on the way was that the "Terms & Conditions" dialogue that you're supposed to read through was empty. Delightfully, I pressed accept for no conditions at all, and got to work.

No Terms? Cool! I'd like to see this more often.

To use the collaborative editing feature, you must use Microsoft's OneDrive. I had never used OneDrive before, but signing into my Microsoft account and setting it up was a snap, as was saving a document to it.

This is where things started to take a turn, however. I installed the suite on a second PC too, and signed in with another Microsoft account, but while sharing the document was fairly easy, when I edited the document on the second PC no changes showed up on the first. I hit CTRL-S to save the document, and still no changes showed up, but I did get a pop-up dialogue telling me that "When you save, Word updates your document with the changes made by others."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but that isn't the real-time editing we were promised.

Fortunately, the Web editor does work the way it is meant to. Between two different web editors working on the same document, changes do show up in real-time, albeit with a notable delay. This delay isn't game-breaking, but it is enough to put me off from using the Web editor, too. Naturally, to see anything that's been typed in through the Web editor, users on the desktop application will have to save their document to see the changes.

Due to these flaws, at this very moment, I simply cannot recommend using Word in the Microsoft Office 2016 Preview for collaborative editing. The experience is too broken and unrefined, and will likely cause more headaches than it is worth.

However, let's look at it in another way: This is still a Preview application, and therefore not representative of the final product. All we can hope for is that the way it works now isn't the way that Microsoft has intended for the collaborative editor to work, and that the current version is simply a makeshift fix in order to have a working prototype out in time for this Preview package.

What will it take to make us happy with the collaborative editing feature in Microsoft Word? A simple setup (check), easy sharing (check), along with real-time editing between the Web editor and the desktop application as snappy as it works in Google Docs, without sacrificing any of Word's compelling features. In short, I just want to use the feature, without having to think about how to use it.

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Niels Broekhuijsen

Niels Broekhuijsen is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He reviews cases, water cooling and pc builds.

  • Osmin
    Since Windows 8, Microsoft started making their desktop software look like tablet apps. Even though I am getting used to it, I would have preferred rich, colorful, and less flat looking desktop programs with file compatibility of the tablet/phone apps.
  • Dextron
    This is the same disapointingly incomplete feture set we already have in Office 2013. I was also hoping for them to make it decent thsi time around. (Three years beta-testing the thing on millions of paying costumers seems enough)
  • Abaddon
    These features have been around since Word 2007? Certainly for Word 2010 and 2013.

    And they work brilliantly. Though keep in mind there is a maximum editor count (8 or 10 I believe).
  • Frank Dragon
    Heck, I'm waiting for an EASY way in Outlook to see the full headers (helps in spam control) as well as the full email address, and not just "Mom". Because "Mom" could be "<>"
  • Unoentremil
    I agree with Osmin 1000%. Please, Microsoft bring back the rich, colorful and less flat looking desktop and 'File Explorer' of Windows 7. It's not only more appealing and healthy to the eye. It's also much more productive / faster to work with (at least on PC's with today's large monitors). This new flat - High contrast tablet look should be entirely optional.