Office 2016 preview gets real-time collaboration, simplified file sharing

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Microsoft gave members of its Office 2016 beta program another taste of the future after releasing support for real-time collaboration on documents in Word for Windows and Mac OS.

The new feature, called “Real Time Presence,” is coming first to Word 2016 and will show users in real-time where in a document their colleagues are working. It’s first rolling out to users of OneDrive for Business, but Microsoft Corporate Vice President Kirk Koenigsbauer said in a blog post announcing the updates that other users would get access to the feature “soon.”

Real Time Presence is the precursor to a Google Docs-esque Real Time Typing feature that will let desktop users of Office view what their colleagues are adding to a file as they write it. Microsoft already offers real-time co-authoring through the web-based Office Online, but this is the first time that users will be able to work together live inside desktop applications. Once Office 2016 hits its final release, desktop users will be able to work together live with Office Online users on the same document, as long as it’s stored in OneDrive or SharePoint. For now, simultaneous editing only works between web users or between desktop users—the two platforms can’t mix.

The apps have also been updated to make it easier for users to share files. Pressing the “Share” button in the Ribbon will automatically prompt a document’s author to save it to OneDrive or SharePoint, and then open a pane where they can invite other users to work on the file.

Those features are part of Microsoft’s vision for the future of its productivity suite. Rather than focusing solely on features for individual document editing, the company is pushing collaboration features that help people work together. Real-time collaboration is one of the marquee features of Google Apps, which includes Google Docs and competes against Office Online and Office 365.

The preview has received a number of other upgrades, including Insights for Office, which uses contextual clues from the document a user is composing to offer information about words or phrases that the person highlights. Right now, it’s only available in Word and Outlook, but Microsoft will expand the feature further to other Office apps.

OneDrive for Business and SharePoint users who need better version control can now go to the File menu and click on History, which will open a sidebar with a list of a document’s saved revisions.

The news comes a month after Microsoft opened the Office 2016 preview to the public at its Ignite conference in Chicago. The company hasn’t given an exact release date for the next version of its productivity suite, but has said that Office 2016 will be out this fall.

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