The right way to configure co-authoring in SharePoint 2013

Document co-authoring in SharePoint 2013 is somewhat easier than in previous versions, but administrators need to configure the platform correctly.

Collaboration is difficult if team members have to plan when they can access and edit documents. One of the key features of collaboration platforms is allowing multiple editors to edit without overwriting changes.

One of the most useful capabilities in SharePoint 2013 document libraries is document co-authoring (which also exists in SharePoint 2010). Prior to the introduction of the document co-authoring feature, only one user could edit a document at a time. Document co-authoring improves productivity by allowing multiple users to work on a document at the same time.

Document co-authoring is enabled by default for SharePoint 2013 document libraries. Even so, administrators need to know about certain configuration details to support co-authoring.

Not every application supports co-authoring. It works with Microsoft Office 2010 and 2013. You can use document co-authoring with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and OneNote. In Office 2013, co-authoring is also supported for Microsoft Visio. Microsoft Excel is conspicuously absent from the list.

If you want to provide co-authoring for Microsoft Excel, use SharePoint Online or enable the Office Web Apps Server. The Office Web Apps can be used for co-authoring in Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote Web apps.

If administrators want users to co-author documents, they shouldn't configure SharePoint so that users are required to check documents out of the document library. Previously, users had to check the document out because this was SharePoint's way of maintaining version control. In SharePoint 2010 and 2013, however, checking a document out of the document library is the equivalent of locking the document. Only the user who has checked out the document can edit the document until that document is checked back in.

If you require documents to be checked out to be edited, it nullifies the co-authoring capabilities for the document library.

In some cases, users should be able to check documents out of the document library. A user may need exclusive control over a document for a period of time. But if you require documents to be checked out in order to be edited, it nullifies the co-authoring capabilities.

If you plan to support document co-authoring, consider how SharePoint keeps track of document versions. SharePoint includes a versioning feature that allows previous versions of a document to be saved. Although document versioning has its place, versioning is disabled by default in SharePoint 2013.

The main reason why document versioning is disabled by default is that SharePoint can save major and minor versions of documents. SharePoint 2013 has a glitch that can cause minor versioning to result in synchronization problems with OneNote. So Microsoft recommends that if you choose to enable versioning for a document library containing OneNote notebooks, you keep minor versioning disabled.

If you enable versioning for a document library, there are two considerations. The first is the versioning period, which controls how frequently a new version of an Office document will be saved. The versioning period affects only Microsoft Word and PowerPoint documents, not OneNote documents.

Second, consider the number of document versions that should be retained. As you will recall, versioning enables you to backtrack to a previous version of the document. You can configure how many previous document versions are retained.

If a document library is used solely for Microsoft Word and PowerPoint documents, configuring the number of document versions to be retained is straightforward. But document libraries containing OneNote notebooks work differently. Because of the way that OneNote works, notebooks that are frequently updated can cause new versions to be produced at a fairly rapid pace. That being the case, Microsoft recommends that you put a cap on the total number of document versions to be retained for any document library that contains OneNote notebooks. Otherwise, you could end up with an excessive number of revisions being stored.

Even though document co-authoring is enabled by default in SharePoint 2013, administrators should take the time to make sure that document libraries are not configured to require documents to be checked out, and that document versioning is configured appropriately.

Next Steps

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This was first published in August 2014

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