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Thursday, November 07, 2013, 08:16 am PT (11:16 am ET)

Microsoft counters Apple's free iWork suite by bolstering its Office Web Apps

Following a major, free update to Apple's iWork productivity suite for Mac, iOS and Web, Microsoft responded this week with its own significant updates to the company's Web-based Office applications.

Office


Most significantly, Microsoft announced that it has now added real-time co-authoring to its suite of Office Web Apps, allowing users to contribute to and edit documents simultaneously. The collaboration tools are now available for Microsoft's Word Web App, PowerPoint Web App, and Excel Web App.

"New real-time presence helps you see where your co-authors are working in the document so that you don't create conflicts as you edit," the company said in a blog post. "Additionally, the new ability to see changes to text and formatting as they happen will help you and your co-authors stay on the same page as your ideas develop and evolve."



Word Web App has also been improved with new formatting controls, including headers, footers and page numbers. Documents now automatically save and reflect collaborative updates, and the Web-based word processor includes find and replace functionality.

Microsoft has also added a new table styles feature, that offers users a number of preset options. And page breaks can now also be inserted into Word Web App for more document control.

Office


Significant updates were also issued to Microsoft's Excel Web App, such as sheet protection, which prevents users from selecting or typing in protected cells; status bar aggregates, which show values for multiple selected cells; and reorder sheets, allowing users to quickly move sheets into a desired order.

Excel on the Web has also added the ability to drag and drop cells and rename workbooks. And Microsoft has promised that it has "much more in the pipeline," with additional features expected to be added in the coming months, greatly expanding the functionality of its Web-based productivity suite.

The announcements come just a few weeks after Apple announced collaboration for its own free Web-based iWork for iCloud suite. In a live demonstration at the company's October keynote presentation, two users were shown editing a document at the same time, with their presence in the document shown within the browser.

Apple's iWork platform has been enhanced to work across the Web, on a Mac, and on iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad. In revamping the suite, Apple was forced to change or remove a number of key features, though the company has indicated that a significant number of them will return within the next six months.