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Starting with Document Collaboration in Word, Excel or PowerPoint

Microsoft has been talking about document collaboration for a long time but now it’s available to everyone with a recent version of Office and OneDrive.   So here’s a simple guide to opening the same document at the same time on multiple computers.

You don’t need two people to try out document collaboration.  You can try it out yourself with a combination of:

  • Word/Excel or PowerPoint on your Windows or Mac
  • Word/Excel/PowerPoint Online in a browser on the same computer or another device.
  • Word, Excel or PowerPoint apps on a tablet or smartphone.
  • Office ‘all in one’ app for iPhone, iPad or Android.

Doing it yourself is the best way to try out document collaboration.

Why bother?

Microsoft sells document collaboration as a business tool but it’s just as useful for individuals, families, groups and friends.

Believe us when we say that document collaboration is a useful part of any Word, Excel or PowerPoint users toolbox.

And it’s easier to try out document collaboration in advance of someone asking you to use it.

Some uses beyond the obvious:

  • Open a document on a laptop or device while it’s still open on another (desktop) machine (maybe left open by accident). In the past you’d have to mess around with a copy but now you can continue editing the same file.
  • Ask someone to comment / proofread a document while you’re still working on it. That’s better than emailing a document then having to wait until the document returns before making more changes.
  • Sharing to view. A document can be shared as ‘read only’ so others can see the latest version but not make changes.  We know families that use this for trip planning – everyone can see the latest itinerary from any device.
  • Clubs can use document sharing or viewing to let members see the latest info for a changing situation.

In short, try it out and you’ll find uses for document collaboration.

What you need:

  • Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint – twice. Office 365/2019 or 2016 for Windows or Mac, Office Online and the Office apps all have the full ‘real time’ collaboration. But other modern versions of Word/Office (at least Word 2013) will let you open a document simultaneously, it’ll take a little longer for other documents to update.
  • A document saved on OneDrive or Dropbox.

Open the same document yourself from different devices or Office Online in a browser.  Then you can easily see for yourself what’s happening by switching between the two instances of the same document.

Here’s the step-by-step.  It’s really very easy so don’t be scared!

  1. Open the document, saved on OneDrive, in Word. Open or make a document saved to your OneDrive account.
  2. If you want to share the document with someone else, go to File | Share. See ‘Share the document’ below.
    If you’re sharing with yourself, open the same document on the other device or browser.  We’ll use Word Mobile in this example.
  3. On the other copy of Word (yours or someone else’s) open the same document. In this case we’ll use Word Online.  Choose the document on OneDrive, it opens in View mode, choose Edit Document | Edit in Word Online.

  4. When you open the document, each program will show that someone already has the document open. Here’s Word Online with Peter logged into the browser. ‘Peter Deegan’ is shown as ‘also editing’ because he’s also using Word 2016/Win to use the document at the same time.

(There’s no way, at present, to distinguish between different instances of the same person accessing the document)
At the same time, on Word 2016 for Windows you’ll see the Share button on top right showing the number of people/instances of the document that are open.

Click on that button to open a Share pane to invite more people or see details of who is online.   ‘Editing in real time’ or just ‘Editing’ if ‘real time’ collaboration isn’t available.

  1. Now, make a change in the document. Then switch to the other version of the document to see the change magically appear. With Word 2016/Win ‘real time’ collaboration the change will appear very quickly and you can see who made the change.

Changes will appear in temporary shading so they stand out

  1. If you don’t have Word 2016/Win or Word Online the changes don’t spread as quickly. You’ll have to finishing making changes to a paragraph and perhaps click the Save button to let others to see what you’ve done.  It’s still document collaboration but a just a little slower.
  2. You can add Comments to the document and they’ll appear when other people open the document. Here’s a comment made in Word Online:

And a few moments later, the same comment shows up in Word 2016/Win

These days comments can have replies too.

Tip of the Hat to Bob Newhart

Share the document.

To share a document with someone, use the Share option in recent versions of Office.

In Office 2016, Microsoft have made it really obvious with a dirty great big Share button on the right of the ribbon.  They are really pushing collaboration.

The simplest option is to give someone a ‘sharing link’ to the document.  This is a web link that lets anyone who uses the link either edit or just read the document (depending on the link).

The downside of these sharing links is that anyone who gets the link can access the document.  It’s possible to only authorize certain people (actually Microsoft accounts) to access a document, but that has problems of it’s own which we’ll discuss in a follow up article.

You can send emails with sharing links directly from Office programs or get a sharing link that you can put in your own email, instant msg etc.

To do that, go to the Sharing pane.  In Office 2016 click the Sharing button or File | Share | Share with People.  Then choose Get a Sharing link from the bottom of the pane.

There are two links available.  An Edit link or Read Only link.  In this example the Edit link has already been made, click on Copy to copy to the clipboard, ready to paste into a message.

A View-only link hasn’t been made yet, but the Create button will make one for you to Copy.

The receiver just has to click on the link to open the document in Word Online or Word.

In Office 2013, it’s the same types of link but under File | Share | Get a Sharing link

Excel Sheet View solves a collaboration problem

Limit editing and collaboration within a Word document

Sharing / Collaboration of documents via Dropbox

Share a cloud stored document from Microsoft Office

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