Co-authoring overview (SharePoint Server 2010)
Published: May 29, 2010
In today’s highly connected work environment, documents created by multiple authors, editors, and stakeholders are becoming the rule, instead of the exception. Organizations look to the communication and collaboration capabilities of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 to help them foster communication and collaboration between end-users while reducing administration required to support it. Microsoft Office 2010 continues this trend with co-authoring functionality for Microsoft PowerPoint 2010, Microsoft Word 2010, and Microsoft OneNote 2010 documents on SharePoint Server 2010.
Co-authoring removes barriers to server-based document collaboration and helps organizations to reduce the overhead associated with traditional document sharing through attachments. Co-authoring simplifies collaboration by enabling multiple users to work productively on the same document without intruding on one another’s work or locking one another out. This functionality requires no additional server setup and is the default state for documents stored in SharePoint Server 2010. Co-authoring functionality is managed by using the same tools and technologies that are already used to manage SharePoint, helping to minimize the impact on administrators.
In this article:
Co-authoring functionality in SharePoint Server 2010
In traditional collaboration, documents are shared via e-mail attachments. Tracking versions and edits from multiple authors is difficult and time-consuming for users. E-mail systems have to contend with storing multiple copies of the same document, not to mention increased network traffic as documents are sent repeatedly.
The use of SharePoint to store documents for collaboration has reduced these problems by providing consistent access to up-to-date versions of documents, the ability to track previous versions, and centralized management. Storing a single document, instead of many attachments, also reduces network and storage overhead.
But this solution hasn’t been perfect. When one author has a document open, other authors cannot work on it. If someone forgets to close a document or check it in, other users may be locked out indefinitely, a situation that often requires a call to the IT department to resolve the problem.
Co-authoring in SharePoint Server 2010 addresses these issues by making it possible for multiple users to work on a document, at any time, without interfering with each other's changes. This approach streamlines many common document-collaboration scenarios. For example:
Two or more authors are working on different parts of a composite document. While one author works on his section of the document, another author can work on hers, without either interrupting their work.
Several authors are working on a composite slide show. Each author can add slides to the presentation and edit them, instead of working in isolation and trying to merge several documents and make them consistent all at the same time.
A document is sent out to several experts and stakeholders, each of whom has some edits or additions. No user’s edits are lost, because they are all working on a central, server-stored document.
Understanding the end-user experience
Co-authoring is easy to use from the end user’s point of view. When a user wants to work on a document in Word 2010, PowerPoint 2010, or OneNote 2010, he or she merely opens it from SharePoint Server, as usual. If another user already has the document open, both users are able to edit the document at the same time; access to the document is not blocked and no error appears
In Word 2010 and PowerPoint 2010, saving to a document notifies other users viewing the document that there are new edits. Those users can refresh their view immediately to see those changes or continue their work and refresh later to see the latest edits. The authors can also see one another’s work, and everyone knows who is working on the document. SharePoint Server 2010 versioning and tracking tools protect the document so that authors can roll back unwanted changes. When Office Communication Server is available, users can see the online status of fellow co-authors and initiate instant messaging conversations without leaving the document.
With OneNote 2010, shared notebooks enable users to share notes seamlessly. When a user edits a page of the notebook, those edits are automatically synchronized with other users of that notebook to ensure everybody has a complete set of notes. Edits made by multiple users on the same page appear automatically, enabling near real-time collaboration. Versioning and other shared features in OneNote make it possible for users to roll back edits, show what edits are new, and determine who made a specific edit.
The Excel 2010 client application does not support co-authoring workbooks in SharePoint Server 2010. However, the Excel client application does support non-real-time co-authoring workbooks stored locally or on network (UNC) paths by using the Shared Workbook feature. Co-authoring workbooks in SharePoint is supported by using the Microsoft Excel Web App, included with Office Web Apps. Office Web Apps is available to users through Windows Live and to business customers with Microsoft Office 2010 volume licensing and document management solutions based on Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Products. For more information, see Office Web Apps (Installed on SharePoint 2010 Products).
There are several factors that administrators will want to consider when planning how to use co-authoring in their environment.
Co-authoring functionality in SharePoint is designed to be easy to set up and requires minimal effort to manage. However there are several things to consider when you set up and manage co-authoring:
Permissions – For multiple users to be able to edit the same document, users need edit permissions for the document library where that document is stored. The simplest way to ensure this is to give all users access to the SharePoint site where documents are stored. In cases in which only a subset of users should have permission to co-author documents in a particular library, SharePoint permissions can be used to manage access.
Versioning – SharePoint Server versioning keeps track of changes to documents while they are being edited, and even stores previous versions for reference. By default, this feature is turned off in SharePoint Server 2010. SharePoint Server 2010 supports two kinds of versioning, major and minor. It is best that minor versioning not be turned on for document libraries used for co-authoring in OneNote, as this may interfere with the synchronization and versioning capabilities that are part of the product. This limitation only applies to minor versioning; major versioning may be used with OneNote.
Number of versions – The number of document versions retained affects storage requirements on the server. This number can be tuned in the document library settings to limit the number of versions retained. OneNote notebooks that are frequently updated may result in many versions being stored on the server. To avoid using unnecessary disk space, we recommend that an administrator set the maximum number of versions retained to a reasonable number on document libraries used to store OneNote notebooks.
Versioning period – The versioning period determines how often SharePoint Server will create a new version of a Word or PowerPoint document that is being co-authored. Setting this period to a low value will capture versions more often, for more detailed version tracking, but may require more server storage. The versioning period does not impact OneNote notebooks. This value can be altered by adjusting the coAuthoringVersionPeriod property on the server. For more information about adjusting this setting, see Configure the co-authoring versioning period (SharePoint Server 2010).
Check out – When a user checks out a document for editing, this locks the document for editing to only that user, which prevents co-authoring. Require Check Out should not be enabled in document libraries where co-authoring will be used. By default, Require Check Out is not enabled in SharePoint Server 2010. Users should not check out documents manually when co-authoring is being used.
Unlike Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft OneNote stores version information within the file itself. For this reason, administrators should follow these recommended practices when storing OneNote notebooks in a SharePoint Server document library:
Do not enable minor versioning. By default, minor versioning is not enabled in SharePoint Server 2010.
If major versioning is enabled, set a reasonable maximum number of versions to store. By default, major versioning is not enabled in SharePoint Server 2010.
Software Version Requirements
For users to co-author documents by using Office 2010, those documents must be stored in SharePoint Server 2010 or SharePoint Foundation 2010. To take advantage of the co-authoring functionality, users must have Word 2010, PowerPoint 2010, or OneNote 2010.
The co-authoring functionality in Office 2010 can also be used without SharePoint Server 2010 or SharePoint Foundation 2010 if users have Windows Live SkyDrive accounts. Using co-authoring without SharePoint Server 2010 or SharePoint Foundation 2010 is not covered in this article.
Co-Authoring in a mixed Office environment
Some organizations may want to use co-authoring in an environment where users have different versions of Office.
Mixed environment that has Microsoft Office PowerPoint and Word 2007
Users of earlier versions of PowerPoint and Word can share and edit documents stored in SharePoint Server 2010 exactly as with previous versions of SharePoint. However, they cannot use co-authoring to work on them at the same time. To collaborate best in PowerPoint and Word, we recommend that all users work with Office 2010. Users of Office PowerPoint and Word 2007 will not experience any significant difference between their current experience and their user experience on Office 2010. For instance, if Office 2007 users open a document stored in Office 2010 that is currently being edited by another user, they will see a message that the document is being used and will be unable to edit it. If no other user is editing the document, Office 2007 users will be able to open it as usual. When an Office 2007 user opens a document, this creates a lock on the document and prevents users of Office 2010 from using co-authoring to edit the document. This behavior matches earlier versions of SharePoint.
Mixed environment that has Microsoft Office OneNote 2007
OneNote 2010 is backward compatible with the Office OneNote 2007 file format and supports co-authoring with OneNote 2007 users. In mixed environments, notebooks must be saved in the OneNote 2007 file format for OneNote 2007 and OneNote 2010 users to work on it together. By upgrading to the OneNote 2010 file format, however, users gain several key features, including compatibility with the Microsoft OneNote Web App that allows users without any version of OneNote installed to edit and co-author notebooks.
OneNote 2010 includes the ability to upgrade OneNote 2007 files to OneNote 2010 files at any time, providing an easy upgrade path for organizations that are moving from a mixed environment to a unified environment on Office 2010.
Performance and scalability
SharePoint Server 2010 and Office 2010 applications have been designed to minimize the performance and scalability impact associated with co-authoring in your environment. Office clients do not send or download co-authoring information from the server until more than one author is editing. When a single user is editing a document, the performance impact resembles that of previous versions of SharePoint Server.
Office clients are configured to reduce server impact by reducing the frequency of synchronization actions related to co-authoring when the server is under heavy load, or when a user is not actively editing the document, further helping to reduce overall performance impact.