Office 2016: Real-time Collaboration Features?

Word_UI_1992x1172Recent news articles about Microsoft’s upcoming release of their business productivity suite, Microsoft Office 2016, indicate the company is rapidly catching up to Google Docs.

One of the key features of Docs — arguably its greatest advantage over Office — is the ability of many users to collaborate on documents in real time over the Internet. The ability to co-author and update materials in an interactive manner has been a real boon for productivity. Moreover, the ability to handle this in a familiar setting — a web browser — without a cumbersome setup or software installation process (namely SharePoint, grumble grumble) gives users enough incentive to overcome Docs’ inherent primitive features. Not to mention the price point. It’s hard to argue with free, right? Sure, except when you need those missing features.

On the other side of the fence, Office is generally the business go-to suite when you need to turn out documents requiring either better formatting or greater precision. Office apps provide a variety of feature-rich functionality that a web app doesn’t offer — even Microsoft’s own web-based Office 365 apps. The power behind the tools is an important distinction for an information worker.

I know in my own workflow, I’ll differentiate between the types of documents I work on in each tool. Google Docs has been my go-to platform when collaboration matters because my organization standardized on Google Apps/Gmail for everyone. It’s certainly handy, but I’m not about to write and share customer agreements or SLAs using Google Docs. Microsoft Word provides the appropriate tools for formatting and organization that are necessary for presentation of a business document.

So how does this shift in the capabilities of Office re-shape how businesses collaborate? Once we know the extent of these new features and their ease-of-use, we will be in a better position to re-evaluate their practical value. But we can be sure of one thing: if Office 2016 offers real-time collaboration that’s on-par with Google Docs, businesses will undoubtedly reap massive benefits.