Document collaboration is a critical element to working effectively as a team in your enterprise. The combination of SharePoint and Office offers a spectrum of document collaboration methods, whether it is co-authoring a spreadsheet or routing a business plan through a workflow. Understanding the ways you can collaborate on documents is vital to making the best choice for your needs and improving your productivity as an information worker.
However you collaborate on your documents, the days of forwarding attachments in e-mail are history. From this day forward, you never need to pass your document around, and then struggle with the reconciliation of version conflicts, the manual merging and coordinating of changes, the tracking down of who has done what, and the locating of the most up-to-date version.
Note For more information about how to co-author documents, search the Help for Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Office Online. For more information about configuring SharePoint for document collaboration and co-authoring, see the TechNet web site.
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The document collaboration spectrum
Document collaboration means several authors work on a document or collection of documents together. They could be simultaneously co-authoring a document or reviewing a specification as part of a structured workflow. Document co-authoring means working on a document simultaneously with one or more users. There are different methods of document collaboration and co-authoring that gradually involve more structure and control around the document collaboration experience. A good way to help you decide which document collaboration method and product is right for you is to envision your options along a spectrum of choices.
Multiple authors edit simultaneously anywhere in the document. Examples include: recurring minutes, brainstorming sessions, and reference material for OneNote; and team-developed financial models, budgets, and asset tracking lists for Excel.
Multiple authors edit simultaneously in a controlled way by saving content when ready to be revealed. Examples include: business plans, newsletters, and legal briefs for Word; and marketing and conference presentations for PowerPoint.
Comment and review:
A primary author solicits edits and comments (which can be threaded discussions) by routing the document in a workflow, but controls final document publishing. Examples include online Help, white papers, and specifications.
: Authors start workflows on an entire document set or individual items within the Document Set to manage common tasks such as review and approval.
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Co-authoring with Office and Office Online
The following sections describe the ways you can co-author by using Office and Office Online, and best practices when using SharePoint libraries to maintain the files.
Summary of co-authoring products
Several Office and Office Online products enable multiple authors to edit documents at the same time. For each product, the co-authoring functionality is very similar. However, there are some design differences that support different collaboration methods and intended scenarios. The following table summarizes each co-authoring product.
||Any document including proposals, plans, vision statements, minutes, newsletters, and reports
||Any presentation including training, conferences, post-mortems, product overviews, handbooks, and project status reports
||SharePoint Technologies and Office Online
||Any spreadsheet, including team financial modeling, business-to business product line update on a web page, and real-time trading spreadsheet trackers
||Any notebook, including recurring meeting minutes, project brainstorming ("group-think"), shared research and reference material, and shared training courses
||SharePoint Technologies and Office Online
Co-authoring, versioning, checkout, and mixed Office environments
The following sections describe best practices when you are co-authoring with other users.
Co-authoring and the checking out of documents
Co-authoring is not compatible with the process of checking out and checking in documents in a SharePoint library. Checking out a document means you want to exclusively write to it, and then eventually check it back in so others can see the changes or do further work on the document. Therefore, when you check out a file, other users cannot co-author the document with you. By default SharePoint libraries do not require checking out files, and should not be enabled where co-authoring will be used. You should also not explicitly check out a document if you want to co-author the document.
Co-authoring documents and versioning
Versioning makes it possible for users to save document versions, roll back edits, or snapshot the state of a document to correspond to a project milestone. SharePoint keeps track of changes to documents while they’re being edited, stores previous versions, and can even maintain major and minor versions of a document. Because several co-authors might keep a document open for a long period of time, versioning for co-authored documents is performed at specific time intervals and not necessarily when the document is saved. By default, versioning is not enabled in a SharePoint library.
When you co-author Word and PowerPoint documents, it’s a good idea to use versioning, both major and minor, so that users can retrieve changes made by other users when necessary. Furthermore, the versioning period determines how often SharePoint creates a new version of a document that is being co-authored. The default value of 30 minutes probably works for most environments, but this value can be adjusted by an administrator as necessary. Setting this period to a lower value captures versions and changes more frequently, but may require more server storage.
For libraries containing OneNote notebooks, it’s a good idea to only do major versioning, because minor versions might cause synchronization errors that could prevent changes from being saved. OneNote notebooks that are frequently updated may also create many versions. Because the number of versions can become large over time, it’s a good idea to limit the number of versions retained by setting a maximum number of versions to a reasonable amount based on user’s needs. Note that the versioning period does not impact OneNote notebooks, because OneNote keeps more detailed version information within the notebook.
Co-authoring documents in a mixed Office version environment
Some organizations maintain an environment where users have different versions of Microsoft Office, such as Office 2007 and Office.
Some organizations maintain an environment where users have different versions of Microsoft Office, such as Office 2007 and Office 2010.
Although you can upload files via Word and PowerPoint 2007 or earlier to a SharePoint library, you cannot co-author these documents with those legacy applications. Furthermore, when a user opens a Word or PowerPoint OOXML document with Word or PowerPoint 2007, SharePoint creates a lock on the document and prevents other users of Office from using co-authoring to edit that document. To take best advantage of co-authoring in Word or PowerPoint, it is recommended that all users work with Microsoft Office 2010 or 2012. Excel workbooks can only be coauthored via the Excel 2010 or Excel 2012 Web App. Using the Excel 2012 or earlier client application will always create an exclusive lock on the server document which will prevent coauthoring.
Issues with co-authoring documents
If you cannot co-author a Word document or PowerPoint presentation, then one or more of the following reasons may be the cause:
- The file is using Information Rights Management (IRM) or Digital Rights Management (DRM).
- The file is checked out.
- The file is encrypted.
- The file format is not supported. Only .docx and .pptx file formats are supported. In most cases, you can save the unsupported file format in the supported format.
- The file is marked as final. The file owner has decided to stop the process of editing or co-authoring the file and the file is now read-only.
- Certain Microsoft Office group policy settings prevent co-authoring including the following: Disable Automerge Client Policy, Disable Co-Authoring Server Policy, and Disable Co-Authoring Client Policy.
- The file contains an ActiveX controls.
- The file contains certain objects that cannot be uniquely identified, such as an OLE object, a SmartArt graphic, chart, or Ink object.
- The Word document uses master documents with subdocuments, contains HTML Framesets, or is being published as a blog.
- The Word document does not have the Store random numbers to improve Combine accuracy check box selected. (On the ribbon, click the File tab, click Options to display the Word Options dialog box, click Trust Center, click Trust Center Settings to display the Trust Center dialog box, click Privacy Options, and then under the Document-specific settings section, make sure the Store random numbers to improve Combine accuracy check box is selected.)
Document collaboration spectrum scenarios
The following sections provide more details about each of the co-authoring products, the different collaboration methods they support, and their intended scenarios.
Perhaps the best scenario for explaining co-authoring in a semiformal way is the classic group brainstorming session. Using OneNote , OneNote Online, or even a combination of the two, several authors can quickly capture ideas and thoughts during a brainstorming session at the same time and in the same notebook. Think of this as a "virtual whiteboard". Like any good brainstorming session, there's no need to correct or revise right away, just express yourself in a free-flow of thoughts. All authors can simultaneously add content and instantly see what has been added. By the end of the brainstorming session, you have captured a record of your session that can then be cleaned up as desired. If you need to follow-up with another author, each content chunk is tagged with their alias and you can even search content by who authored it.
Other common ways you might use OneNote to collaborate on a notebook are recurring meeting minutes, shared research for a quick project, training courses, and reference materials.
You use Excel to: run calculations and statistical comparisons on your data; create and use PivotTable reports to view hierarchical data in a compact and flexible layout; visually emphasize your data by using professional-looking charts, conditional formatting icons, data bars, color scales, and sparklines; and perform what-if analysis operations on your data.
Using Excel Online, you can do much of this analytical work simultaneously with other users. Other authors can work on different worksheets, different sections of a worksheet, or even edit the same cells as you – including cells that contain formulas and functions – all at the same time. In this case, the last edit wins if you happened to both edit the same cell. Using Excel Online while co-authoring is a great way to see each other's thoughts, test out different formulas and calculations, compare results, and even verify and catch each other's mistakes.
When a Word document or PowerPoint presentation is stored in a SharePoint library, two or more users can co-author the document or presentation at the same time. For example, in the same Word document, you can work on one paragraph while a colleague works on another paragraph. Or in the same presentation, you can work on one slide while a colleague works on another slide. You don't need to turn anything on or remember to set anything up to make this work. Co-authoring "just works". And it's worth emphasizing that you still have access to virtually all the rich editing and formatting features in Word or PowerPoint when you co-author, including commenting, change tracking, and document versions.
Formal co-authoring means that changes made by authors are buffered, and then released when authors are ready to explicitly save changes. Generally speaking, you don't want half-formulated thoughts shared with other authors, nor do you want your train-of-thought constantly interrupted by other co-authors. However, while co-authoring in Word and PowerPoint , you can always see where other authors are editing as they edit, and other authors will see where you are editing as you edit through the use of icons, status bar indicators, and navigation panes of the document or presentation.
In short, formal co-authoring means you know where other authors are, but each author reveals changes only when they are ready to show them to others.
This formal co-authoring process also helps minimize conflicts, because you can easily track changes and coordinate as necessary in real-time. If you have Office Communicator installed on your computer, you can even click the presence button to send an instant message, send an e-mail, or call your colleague to discuss any issues. Finally, when you are finished co-authoring, it’s no problem finding the most up-to-date version of the document in the document library. It's been in the same SharePoint location all along.
Comment and review
Comment and review is a common and more traditional document collaboration method. In this case, a single author seeks review and feedback from other authors, such as peers or subject matter experts, but wants to have more control over the incorporation of edits and the final publication.
To spend less time managing the details of the document review process and more time working on your documents, you can use a workflow on a SharePoint site to gather document feedback. Workflows streamline the cost and time required to coordinate common business processes, such as document reviews, by managing and tracking the human tasks involved with these processes. Because the workflow assigns tasks, sends reminders, tracks participation, enforces schedule dates, and creates a record of the entire process, you can concentrate on performing your work instead of managing the logistics of the document review process.
For example, you can start a collect feedback workflow by filling out a workflow initiation form in which you specify the names of the people you want to review the document. You can provide specific instructions to the reviewers, and you can specify the date when you want the workflow participants to complete their review. Participants can view the workflow status while the workflow is in progress, or check the Workflow Status page to see which participants have completed their workflow task. The workflow owner can set up the workflow so that participants can work on tasks in a parallel or serial fashion, update active tasks, add or update reviewers, specify a due date for the deliverable, and finally mark it as complete when all tasks are completed.
Other topics you may be interested in:
Enable and configure versioning for a list or library
Set up a library to require check-out of files
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