Earlier this month I had the privilege of attending the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana (great food, great music, friendly people :-).
The most interesting information I got there was news about the upcoming Office Web offering and Word Services.
Scheduled for public release sometime in 2010, the Microsoft Office Web Apps will open up a host of new possibilities for genuine Word document creation and editing on the road and over the web. This will be especially great in conjunction with the subdocument feature of Xpertdoc Designer - that allows light clients to provide rich content when filling portions of enterprise-governed templates. My hope personally is that it will spell the end, once and for all, of the antiquated RichText format that is still prevalent in many web-based solutions.
Another exciting feature is the rich capabilities enabled by the upcoming SharePoint Word Services. Much like Excel Services today allow an Excel document residing on a SharePoint server to be updated without having to first download it locally, server-side Word documents will allow for pretty compelling collaboration scenarios. I have seen a cool demonstration where two writers work at the same time inside the same document. As one of the writers starts editing a specific paragraph, the other one receives a real time visual cue indicating that this section is currently locked by his colleague. Once the first writer commits his changes to the server, the second one has the opportunity to synchronize his view to see and work from the modified document.
Another cool capability is when a primary writer assigns tasks to her colleagues right from within the document she’s working on. The assigned portions of the document actually look like SharePoint or Outlook tasks, complete with assignee, due date and current status. The collaborating colleagues receive the task notifications and, once they’ve completed their assigned tasks, the primary writer can, with a single click, integrates everyone’s sections, proofread them and finalize the output. Looks like these scenarios might finally bring collaborative document authoring to a much needed “next level”.