Software

How G Suite's real-time presence feature aids collaboration in Microsoft Office apps

Google's real-time presence feature adds one more reason for organizations to use Google Drive for all files.

People who use Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides likely appreciate the power of real-time, multi-person editing. Open a Google Doc, change something or add a comment at the same time that other people review and modify things, too—from Google Docs in browsers or mobile apps. For organizations that use G Suite, the native Google apps offer optimal collaboration capabilities.

But Google's real-time presence feature helps people who use installed Microsoft Office apps take one step toward a more collaborative work environment. Traditionally, when one person opened a Word, Excel, or PowerPoint file stored on a server, that action prevented other people from making changes to the file. Real-time presence introduces collaboration signals into Microsoft Office apps as people work with those files stored on Google Drive.

Screenshot of the "See who's editing Microsoft Office files in Drive File Stream" initial message

With Google Drive File Stream installed on a Windows or macOS system, a notification will display to indicate that the real-time presence feature is available. Sign-in to your account to enable it.

How G Suite real-time presence works

The real-time presence feature adds collaboration signals into Office apps via Google Drive File Stream. The notifications appear in the lower-right corner of the app, and indicate when you are the only person making changes to a file, as well as when other people are making—or have made—changes.

Real-time presence relies on two components: Microsoft Office and Google Drive File Stream. You'll need Microsoft Office 2010 or newer installed on your system to receive real-time presence signals. And you'll also need to open the file you want to edit from Google Drive, using the mapped drive created by Google Drive File Stream on your system. Because of those two requirements, real-time presence runs only on Windows and macOS systems.

From left to right, shows "Safe to edit", "New version created: Get latest", and "New version created: Preview or Save Mine as Copy"

When you work with a file opened with Google Drive File Stream in an installed Microsoft Office app, real-time presence displays collaboration signals, such as these three shown.

The system tracks edits and notifies everyone who uses the real-time presence feature as modifications occur. When you are the only person who has the document open, you'll see either a "Safe to edit" message or a checkmark. If another person who uses the real-time presence feature makes changes, you'll see a "Wait to edit" indicator as they edit.

How you manage document changes

Real-time presence helps you manage document changes. If someone else edits the document, you'll see a "New version created: A newer version of this file has been created" message. Select the "Get latest" button, and your document will update to reflect the changes.

If the system detects that changes have been made by both you and another person, you'll see a slightly different notification and options: "New version created: A newer version of this file has been created. Click 'preview' to compare your version and the latest version side-by-side." You'll then have the option to either save your changes as a copy of the file, or to see the two documents side-by-side, with your edits (on the left) and with the newest version edited by others (on the right). Then, you can manually compare the versions, and copy-and-paste any of your changes you wish to keep into the newer copy of the document.

Screenshot that shows two versions of a Microsoft Word document side-by-side, with real-time presence notifications.

When the system detects that both you and another person have made edits, you can either save your copy as a new version, or preview the two files side-by-side.

While real-time presence doesn't directly work on mobile devices, it does detect changes made by people who open and edit a file on a mobile device. For example, open a Word Document stored on Google Drive on a Windows system from the G: drive created by Google Drive File Stream. You'll see the "Safe to edit" message. However, another person can open the document with Word on an iPad via the Apple Files app. When they save those changes, the person using Word on Windows will see a "New version created" notice, since the system detects that the version on Google Drive has changed. But the person using Word on an iPad has no way to know that another person has opened the document on a desktop.

Your thoughts?

Real-time presence serves as a helpful aid to organizations who have moved files from an on-site server to Google Drive, yet still prefer to work with Microsoft Office files and native Microsoft apps.

If you use real-time presence in Microsoft Office apps, what has your experience been? Do you find the notifications helpful? Has it helped people appreciate the potential of real-time collaboration? Let me know either in the comments or on Twitter (@awolber).

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About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Albuquerque, NM with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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