After the announcement that SharePoint Online is coming out of Preview, Microsoft has also announced a number of upgrades to Microsoft Office Web Apps, which, when all the upgrades become available, will come with support for Chrome on Android tablets and co-editing in real-time.

Microsoft Web Apps

The upgrades are part of an ongoing upgrade to Microsoft’s productivity apps which, as we saw earlier in the year, will also include the integration of Yammer into Web Apps at an unspecified date in the future, although speculation point to fall 2013.  

The latest announcement appears in an Office blog post by Amanda Lefebvre,  the technical product marketing manager for Office Web Apps. The thinking behind the ongoing improvements, she says, is to provide users with exactly the same experience from Office products online as they would in the packaged version. (Microsoft's Office Web Apps, you may recall, are the Web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote which Microsoft first introduced with Office 2010.)

Lefebvre says that in the intervening period the Web Apps have been upgraded on a regular basis and are now closer to the full versions than the original lightweight on-the-go apps that were originally only companions to the desktop products.

In fact, they have arrived at such a point that they announced only this week that while they will still sell and support the packaged version for the time being, ten years down the road the packaged version could well have disappeared. In the meantime, it will continue to add and build around Web Apps, which is where these upgrades are coming from.

Web Apps Upgrades

While Lefebvre does not give an exact time line as to when the specific upgrades will be released, she does say that they will be rolled-out over the next year. Over that 12 month period, she says, Microsoft will be focusing and investing in three particular areas: user experience, social and collaboration, and broad cross platform browser support.

Needless to say, within these three areas we can expect a pile of new improvements, even if the details of most of those improvements have yet to emerge. 

The upgrades are a response to “consistent customer feedback” around a number of features that users feel are essential to their Office experience. While the big changes are always noteworthy and obvious, Lefebvre says some of the changes are as small as adding a ‘Find and Replace’ function in the Word Web App..

For the moment though, and in this week’s announcements, the following improvements have been announced:

1. Edit from Android tablets

The Web Apps as productivity tools now also serve as a point of connection between Office and the growing number of mobile devices that are now being used by increasingly agile workforce. While Web Apps are already available for Windows 8 tablets and iPads, Microsoft says it will be extending access to Android tablets through mobile Chrome browser support.

2. Real-time co-authoring

Co-authoring capabilities are available across all Office Web Apps and the Office desktop applications that allow multiple editors to work on a single document at the same time. Since its introduction there has been considerable demand for fluid and dynamic collaboration when working online.

The result is the introduction of real-time authoring in Web Apps so that file authors will automatically see presence and edits from others as they happen without needing to refresh. Again, no dates have been given for this, but it is already being delivered across the PowerPoint Web App where changes can been seen almost simultaneously.

Over the coming months, Lefebvre says PowerPoint Web App co-authoring will get faster and will be supported in more Apps. If you’re interested, have a look at the video below to see it working in PowerPoint.