Project Work is something very unfortunate that all Junior College students will have to deal with. Last week, a teacher warned her class on the use of Google Docs, speaking of how it would destroy hours of painstaking formatting when converted into a Word document. Everyone just heeded the warning as an inevitable reality of life: That is what happens when you want to collaborate online.
Only it’s not.
You use Microsoft Office for your offline work. But when it comes to projects and online collaborations, you (reluctantly) switch to Google Docs, in favour of the real time collaboration that it offers. Google Docs was never the preferred option; it was just something that people saw as necessary for online work.
So when Microsoft announced an alternative platform, Office Online, I switched from Google Docs immediately. Just to be clear, you could already do online collaboration with Office 2013, which was released 2 years ago, just not in real time. In any case, I’ve been forcing every project group I’ve had since then to use Office Online. And because it’s been so taxing explaining to every single group I meet about the benefits of using Microsoft’s offering, I decided to write about it. And hopefully, with the help of Raffles Press, people will stop torturing themselves with Google Docs once and for all.
What is Office Online?
To put it simply, it’s Microsoft’s answer to Google Docs. It runs alongside OneDrive (Microsoft’s answer to Google Drive), and works just like Google Docs, only it’s more feature-rich and you won’t have to worry about compatibility issues. There’s online real time collaboration, meaning you can see your friend typing with you when you’re working on the same document on different computers. You can share your documents and folders on OneDrive with your friends, choosing to give them the power to edit, or simply to view.
But then again, Office Online isn’t exactly perfect. You don’t have the full features of Office, and Microsoft has yet to make the layout and formatting identical to that of its full-fledged counterpart, Office 2013. There’s also no chat function (yet), and no revision history (I think). UPDATE: I found the version history. Just right click on the file and hit “version history” (picture below) But it’s a start, and when it comes to the things that matter (getting your report done swiftly without having to care too much about the formatting), Office Online does the trick.
But there’s more
What if you do want to work on say, a report, in full-fledged Microsoft Word because Office Online doesn’t support citations? With Office 2013, you can do that effortlessly. And the best part is, instead of having to download the file, edit it offline, and then upload it into the cloud again, you can choose to “Edit in Word”.
What this does is it opens the document in Word 2013 (if your computer has Word 2013 installed). You’ll notice that the “save” icon has little sync arrows on them. That’s because whenever you hit save, or ctrl S, the document automatically gets synced to the cloud in OneDrive, and everyone else working on the document will immediately see the changes you’ve made to it. (below)
The best-case scenario is when all your groupmates have Office 2013 installed in their computers. In that way, you can all hit “Edit in Word 2013”, and all work together on full-fledged Microsoft Office. The only problem with this though, is that when working in full-fledged Office, there’s no real time syncing (yet); you’ll have to constantly hit the “save button” to refresh the document and see what your groupmates have added.
And of course there’s the added problem that not everyone has Office 2013. It is a worthy investment though, simply because it makes online collaboration so much better with its built-in OneDrive integration. The next version of Office will be out in 2016, so purchasing a single copy of Office 2013 Student will serve you well till then. If you decide to be an Office 365 subscriber though, you’ll be able to upgrade to Office 2016 when it comes at no extra cost (you’re already paying a monthly subscription)
How do I start?
If you have a Microsoft account (aka a Hotmail/Outlook account), you’re good to go. Microsoft has granted you with 15GB free OneDrive storage for you to work on your documents online.
Just head over to https://onedrive.live.com/ , sign in, hit “create”, and voila, you’re working on Office Online. Or, if you prefer, you can simply upload a document to OneDrive, and it’s there for you to collaborate online with your groupmates.
To share a file, simply right click it in OneDrive and hit “share”. Your groupmates will then be able to view/edit the document together with you.
So just start using Office Online, and stop torturing yourself with Google Docs. Better yet, get yourself a copy of Office 2013 and save the rest of your groupmates the trouble and pain. This article mainly gives examples using Word, but you can work on Powerpoint and Excel in a similar fashion.
And now I have to get back to working on some GP presentation… On Google Docs. ( I told you I gave up on explaining this to all the groupmates I encounter didn’t I? )