Microsoft is gradually evolving Office 365 into a full-featured file-sharing and collaboration system, without users having to use SharePoint. The latest improvement is giving Outlook Web App (OWA) the ability to share files through OneDrive for Business.
OWA is the version of Outlook in Office 365. These new improvements are only for the online version. Microsoft is planning to add this functionality to the desktop version of Outlook later.
With the new features, you can send links to files stored in OneDrive for Business (ODB). If you want, you can choose a file on your computer, and OWA will upload it to ODB and then insert a link to that file into your message. Recipients of your message can click on the link to open the file. They can then edit the file, and the changes will be saved to the copy in OneDrive. Microsoft says several users can edit the file at the same time, with all changes saved.
This makes the combination of OWA and ODB very much like what you get with the Box for Outlook plug-in. That works with the desktop Outlook, and allows users to insert links to Box files or to upload files from their computers into Box, where they can be shared and edited.
The best instance of these features come when both senders and receivers are using OWA. In that case, when recipients open an ODB link in a message, they see a view both of the document, which can be edited, and of a message replying to the sender. By clicking on an EDIT AND REPLY link above the upper right-hand corner of the document, changes will be saved and the link returned to the sender when SEND is clicked. To see a complete description of the features and how they work in an all-OWA environment, check out this Office Blog article.
How Outlook Web App Shares Files with Other Email Systems
We also sent OBD links to desktop Outlook and the Web version of Gmail. In that case, the recipient opened the Word Online viewer. Choosing to edit the document in Word Online and saving it resulted in the changes getting sent back to the file on OneDrive for Business, but no return message went to the original sender.
We suspect this method can also be used to send large files. OneDrive for Business now has a 10 GB upload limit, so anything below that should be able to be uploaded to ODB and have the link sent to the recipient, whose email attachment limit might be smaller.
Since dealing with email attachments and sending large files are two of the greatest pain points solved by file-sharing apps, we see these improvements as pretty important. Probably, the greatest impediment to their success will be people’s habits. You have to be willing to switch to OWA, instead of using desktop Outlook, to get them, at this point. But then, that hasn’t stopped a bunch of people from moving to Google Drive, which Microsoft considers the greatest competition.
Microsoft is rolling these features out to Office 365 users now, with general availability expected by the end of November. Like others who have opted for First Release, we have the features now.