Latest Office for Mac offers real-time collaboration and a common code base

While you can open any of the major Microsoft Office apps on either a Mac or a PC, it only takes a few minutes to figure out they're hardly the same experience across both platforms. For years, Office on Mac has lagged behind its Windows counterpart, lacking some of the individual apps' most useful features. That's set to change, as Microsoft has released an update for Office on Mac that finally brings real-time collaboration features and automated cloud saving. More significantly, the Windows and Mac versions of Office now share a codebase for the first time in two decades, a move that should lay the groundwork for better feature parity across different platforms.

The word comes from Microsoft's Principal Software Engineer in the Apple Productivity Experiences group, Erik Schwiebert, who tweeted about the update yesterday. Schwiebert said that the "massive code alignment under the hood" is helping to bring features like the aforementioned real-time collaboration to Word and PowerPoint on Mac, as well as more formulas and multi-threaded recalculation in Excel. The shared code is all C++, Schwiebert explained in subsequent tweets, while native code on each platform handles interfacing with that individual OS.

Some users could fear that a change like this would result in features actually disappearing from one platform or another, but Schwiebert says not to worry. "I don't think we plan to drop features," he said, with the caveat that he works almost exclusively on the Apple side and can't speak to the future plans for Office on Windows. Schwiebert added: "we're not trying to provide uniform 'lowest common denominator' support across all platforms, so there will always be disparate feature gaps. What we are trying to do is bring more features to more platforms by leveraging a common codebase." Schwiebert linked to an hour-long YouTube video from November that goes into greater depth on the update, for those interested.

As for the update's marquee features, real-time collaboration for Office on Mac has been in the works for a long time. Users have long pined for this feature in Office, given that competitors like Google's G Suite have long offered real-time collaboration for free. As with Google's applications, users will now be able to see flag icons indicating where other people are working, and a version history feature will retain previous edits in case someone goes overboard with the red pen.

Schwiebert isn't able to confirm any additional features right now, but it sounds like Office users on Mac can expect a better experience with Microsoft's productivity suite moving forward. The 16.9.0 update is available now.

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