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How to edit your Microsoft Office files via Dropbox

Thanks to a new agreement between Microsoft and Dropbox, mobile users can now edit documents stored on Dropbox through one of Microsoft's mobile apps.

Edit your Microsoft Office documents via Dropbox. screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Need to edit a Microsoft Word document stored on Dropbox on your mobile device? No problem -- at least not if you're running the mobile version of Word.

Available as of Tuesday for both the iOS and Android versions of Dropbox, the new integration between Office and Dropbox taps into the partnership announced earlier this month between Dropbox and Microsoft. The new feature lets Dropbox users edit Office files right from the Dropbox app. It also allows users running the mobile version of Office to directly access Dropbox files, as explained in a Dropbox blog post.

Before the new partnership, users of Microsoft's mobile apps could store and access their files online only via OneDrive, Microsoft's own cloud-based storage service. Now the new integration opens up the process for Dropbox users who don't have OneDrive accounts. That not only benefits users, it also benefits both Dropbox and Microsoft by expanding the number of potential users they can capture.

Previously, users of the Office mobile apps were unable to edit documents without an Office 365 subscription, which starts at $6.99 a month. But earlier this month, Microsoft changed the rules so that you can create and perform basic editing tasks in the mobile apps for free.

For those of you who use both Dropbox and Microsoft Office on your iOS or Android device, here's how it all works:

  • First, make sure you're running the latest version of Dropbox on your mobile device as well as the mobile versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint for iOS or Microsoft Office Mobile for Android.
  • Launch Dropbox on your mobile device and then open any Word, Excel or PowerPoint file.
  • The first time you open an Office file, Dropbox points you to a new Edit icon that allows you to open the file in its native Office app. Tap that icon.
  • Dropbox asks if you want to open the file with its native app. Tap the name of the Office app.
  • You're then asked to grant permission for the corresponding app to access your files and folders in Dropbox. Tap the Allow link. The file then opens in its native Office app.
  • You can now view and edit the file. After you've finished editing the file, tap the Back button to exit the app and return to Dropbox. The version on Dropbox should now contain the changes you made.

Alternatively, you can open your Dropbox files from the mobile version of any of the three Office apps. Here's how that works:

  • Open Word, Excel or PowerPoint on your mobile device. You'll see a new location under Places for Dropbox.
  • Tap the link for Dropbox to view your Dropbox folders and files.
  • Tap the Office file you wish to view or edit. The file opens in your current Office app.
  • Edit the file as needed. Tap the Back button, and the revised file is automatically saved back to Dropbox.

There is one catch, though. The Office integration feature works for Dropbox personal accounts. I tested it on my own Dropbox personal account, and the entire process ran smoothly. But to edit Office files using a Dropbox for Business account, you'll need one of the following Office 365 accounts: Business, Business Premium, ProPlus, E3 or E4.

For more information on how to edit your Office files via Dropbox, check out this Dropbox Help Center page.