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When we first started blogging about Word 2007, we talked a lot about 21st Century Documents. Our vision was that Word 2007 would allow authors to easily create much richer documents (Quick Styles, Themes, SmartArt, Picture Styles, Building Blocks, etc.). In Word 2010, our cutting-edge authoring pillar builds on the 21st Century Documents vision in that 21st Century Documents often have multiple authors. To accommodate this, we're working to make co-authoring as natural as solo-authoring. Here's how…
At the end of my last post, the question of the day was: "What if co-authoring rich documents just worked?" What if we could let multiple authors focus on producing great looking documents, rather than being disrupted by multiple versions, getting locked-out of the document, or limited features and formatting preventing them from creating professional looking documents?
When thinking about how to answer these questions for Word, we focused on three key rules:
From a design perspective, this part was pretty easy, thanks to the groundwork laid by our authoring cohorts in OneNote. In OneNote 2007, if three members of a workgroup need to update a notebook at the same time, they all just open the notebook and update it. This is the much like model for how shared documents work in Word 2010.
For example, let's say you, Sean, and I need to co-author a proposal. I'm from engineering, Sean's from marketing, and you are the project manager—serving more of a reviewer role. In Word 2007, we'd each have our respective areas of the document that we're responsible for—I do the technical details and Sean covers how we'll sell it, and you make sure everything we're saying is in line with the company strategy—and then we'd go off and individually draft our sections, bring our drafts together, and then you'd do your best to copy and paste everything together. From that point on we'd pass around versions with Comments and Tracked Changes until you did a second manual merge and called it good.
With our understanding how authors already collaborate on Word documents, we wanted to ease this process in Word 2010, rather than try to get authors to change the way they work. In Word 2010, you, Sean, and I can still divide up the work, co-author, review, and finalize just like we always would; but now we can do all of that in a single shared document. Sean and I can be authoring away, and you can begin reviewing the document.
You'll just see a little toast from the status bar when you open the document so that you know that you aren't alone.
You can also click the little pawns in the status bar to see the other authors in the document.
This is what we mean by starting co-authoring needs to "just work." In the scenario above, nobody did anything out of the ordinary with the shared document. We worked the way we're used to; it's just a lot easier now because we no longer need to take turns or merge different versions of the document together.
While it's certainly helpful to no longer get locked out of files, there are other big questions when it comes to simultaneously editing rich business-critical Word documents like proposals, reports, articles, etc. Not to trivialize the simple "getting started" experience, but simply getting more than one author into a document at the same time is just the beginning. What makes or breaks the Word co-authoring experience is the design of the actual experience when you start authoring with others.
For example, authors shouldn't lose any of the richness or control that they are used to in Word just because another author opens the document. Similarly, authors shouldn't have their edits prematurely shared with reviewers or have other authors' edits unexpectedly shift their view of the document around. After all, the point of our collaborative authoring investment is to eliminate disruptions (e.g., lots of versions, getting locked-out, etc.), not to introduce new disruptions (e.g., losing features, losing control, etc.). The goal has to be to make existing workflows easier in Word, not to force new workflows in Word.
To this point, essentially all of the rich editing and formatting features in Word 2010 are available regardless of the number of authors working on the document. Going back to the scenario of you, Sean, and I working on the proposal, you can review with Comments and Tracked Changes like you always would. It's just that now you can do it without worrying about being locked out of the document or without worrying about compiling revisions from a bunch of versions.
Along with being used to having all of Word at their disposal, authors already have a mental model for how to share changes when authoring a shared Word document: They save. When you are reviewing the proposal from Sean and me, I certainly do not want you to review the paragraph that I am working on until I am done with it.
Generally speaking, most authors of Word documents don't want their half-formulated thoughts automatically shared with other authors or reviewers. That's why we designed Word co-authoring such that authors explicitly save to share their changes. We respect authors' existing model of save-to-share, and we don't force authors to share their changes before they are ready.
The other half of sharing is important too—that is, how you get other people's changes. Again, we really have to think about Word scenarios like collaborating on complex papers, legal briefs, and newsletters, and consider that in conjunction with the fact that Word is a flow based text editor. Because authors spend a great deal of time fine-tuning content and layout, and because changes to content or layout reflows the entire document, we have to think hard about how merging other authors changes into the document fits into the scenario.
For example, it would be bad if you were struggling to get the wording of a paragraph just right and unexpectedly had:
Any of those experiences would really disrupt the scenario, and disruption is exactly what we're trying to avoid.
To avoid disrupting focused editing, we decided on a "get updates" model that does three things:
Note the new QAT Save icon and status bar Updates Indicator for shared documents
By providing authors with real-time status on update availability, giving authors control over when they see others' changes, and locking cursor position when the document is saved, Word prevents disruption to authors' normal Word editing experience.
In sum, you, Sean, and I could edit our proposal just like we are used to—with all the power of Word, saving to share our changes, and without worrying about the document unpredictably changing from underneath us—it's just a lot more seamless now. We "simply" take an augmented version of our document merge code and automatically combine the changes other authors saved with your changes when you save (we will go into a lot more technical depth on this in the future).
The last core piece of the model for co-authoring in Word has to do with other authors. Up to this point we've only talked about "your" experience. That is, you just open the document, you can use all of Word's features, you control when others see your changes and when you see their changes…but what about everyone else?
If you think about Word document collaboration today, everything is done in silos. Nobody knows what anyone else is doing. We're all working on our own versions because we each have our own copies or because we have to work one after another to avoid getting locked out of the document. Because of this, work often gets wasted. You get versions of the document back from Jane and Steve where Jane's edits don't make any sense given Steve's edits. Or you have three people fix the same spelling mistake.
"Siloing" is one primary aspects of document collaboration today that we wanted to change with co-authoring. When you bring simultaneous edits into the mix, having a way to prevent authors from conflicting with one another's changes moves from a "nice to have" to a "must."
We avoid siloing and conflicting edits by providing real-time presence, paragraph by paragraph, in co-authored documents. While co-authoring, you will see where other authors are editing as they edit, and the other authors will see where you are editing as you edit. You don't need to press a button to let others know where you are; Word keeps everyone's presence in sync in real-time automatically.
You can also go beyond seeing where other authors are working and avoiding conflicting edits and IM, email, or call them right from within Word.
So the model for co-authoring in Word is basically: collaborate just like you do today on shared documents, except have visibility into what others are doing and don't worry about myriad versions or getting locked out. Word acts like it normally does; you just open, add and edit rich content, and press save to share. The one new bit is that since multiple authors are editing at the same time, you see where everyone is, and everyone sees where you are, so that you don't conflict with one another.
So if you, Sean, and I are working on that proposal:
You maintained your normal Word experience, and everyone knew what everyone else was doing. Again, the hope is to make the existing Word document collaboration scenarios easier, not to force authors to change the way they collaborate on documents.
That's the general design, please let me know what you think.
- Jonathan Bailor (MS)
This looks really sleek and elegant. Great stuff. What kind of setup is needed to make this work? Is it enough for each editor to use Word 2010? Or is SharePoint needed? Also, will the communication protocols that make this simultaneous editing work, be opened up so that anyone can implement an editor that can multi-edit a document in real time with Word? Again, great work. The Office teams are really setting a gold standard in modern productivity software.
Hi Yawar - We can’t comment on the specifics of the storage requirements quite yet, but we can say that we will have both enterprise and cloud alternatives available and that all protocols will be documented. - Jonathan Bailor (MS)
so I'm thinking of this as paragraph level locking, done deliberately for very good reasons. what are the elements for other objects than text? would it be a row/column of a table or the whole table? if I'm editing the footer can you work on the footer? how can I think of the smallest lockable functional elements?
Hi Mary – Great question. Generally speaking, we protect users on the lowest level possible down to the paragraph. That means that if you are editing in a table we protect the paragraph within the table. Now a bit more specific, we protect on the:
- object level (i.e. pictures, shapes, etc)
- textbox level (different from tables because textboxes anchor)
- equation level
- field level
- header/footer level - Jonathan Bailor (MS)
How interesting! Nice feature!
Does this feature available in excel 2010? for example, alerts the author while Co-authoring.
Hi Mahmood - Thanks for your kind words. Co-authoring for Excel is available in the Excel Web App, the web version of Excel that was recently announced (see: blogs.msdn.com/.../9896401.aspx). Keep an eye on the Excel blog (http://blogs.msdn.com/excel/) for more information regarding the Excel Web App and the co-authoring experience.
Hi Jonathan - As a copy editor, I'm curious how this will work with Comments and Track Changes. Copy editors have used Comments and Tracking for several years now to make recommendations and changes to an author's document. I'm not sure how these current features will work with co-authoring. Can you explain for me? Many thanks
Hi John – They will work just like they do today. For example, if we are co-authoring a document with Track Changes on, all of our changes will be tracked and “acceptable” and “rejectable” just like they are today. Same thing with comments. It’s just that now more than one person can add comments or tracked changes to the document at the same time. So maybe for your scenario, you could be adding comments to one part of the document, while one or more authors are working in another part of the document. Everything works the same, it’s just that now your team can work on one document (vs. many attachments) and your team can avoid getting locked out of the document. Does that help? If not, please tell me a bit more about your scenario so that I can be of more assistance. Thanks for the great question. - Jonathan Bailor (MS)
Many thanks for addressing my question. This is great stuff.
HI Word Team
I try to used this feature. It's work very well but found 'A sync in real-time automatically' doesn't work on my test server.
The problem is other user can't see something change on that file in real-time.
Could you suggest me, How to fix this problem?
Hi Word Team,
Is there a way of tunring this feature on and off? I'm working on a shared area in a school and when one of my colleagues tries to open the document whilst another is already using it they get the standard read only/save locally/notify pop up. Do we have some settings in place preventing us from using this fantastic feature? I can change the 'track changes' option to on and off but can't see how many people are editing the document (presumably as they are given the read only version). I notice in your screen shots the 'File' tab on the ribbon has the windows logo instead of the word file. Does this have anything to do with it?
can't you guys just buy Codox for Word and be done with it? why reinvent the wheel when these guys have racing tires? Just sayin'.