Office for iOS may be coming (yawn)

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Office for iOS

Image via The Verge

Macworld’s John Moltz has taken a look back at Macworld Expo Boston, 1997, and the now-infamous Steve Jobs keynote in which the great man talked about how cool it was that Apple and Microsoft had just committed to cross-licensing their patents and announced Microsoft’s investment of $150 million in Apple. An even bigger deal for many Mac users (and potential Mac users) was that Microsoft had committed to shipping Office for the Mac for five years. Moltz observes that lack of Office would have killed the Mac back in ’97, but that was then.

In 2013 by most accounts, Apple still has more than half of the tablet market locked up, most of the rest occupied by Android or Android derivatives. Office isn’t available on either platform. Microsoft’s Surface, the only tablet that supports a native version of Office, is selling, well, not robustly.

Moltz contends that in the last 15 years, Microsoft Office has gone from being a must-have product to largely irrelevant to the success of what has become the dominant product category in technology: mobile computing.

Personally, I was an Office (or mostly Word) aficionado 20 years ago when I first became a Mac user, starting with Word 3, and I still think Word 5.1 is the best word-processor I’ve ever used. It was also the last Office product I ever bought from Microsoft.

Word 6 (aka “Word for Windows for the Mac”) turned out to be as awful as Word 5.1 was excellent, and in protest I switched to the somewhat quirky, but interesting and powerful, Nisus Writer. The latter was actually a pretty capable text editor as well as a word processor, and was partly instrumental in persuading me that for most of the stuff I was actually doing with text apps (and still do with text apps) I really didn’t need a full-featured word processor at all. Microsoft eventually fixed Word for Mac OS, and it’s been a quite satisfactory and awesomely powerful word processor app for the Mac for many years now, but I never returned to the fold; I’d discovered I didn’t need it any more.

I switched to text editors back in the late ’90s and never really looked back. I found that Tom Bender’s $15.00 shareware Tex-Edit Plus—a styled text editor that still supported enough formatting features to meet most needs I had for printing out hard copy documents—was well-suited to supporting the vast majority of my work, which is plain text based. TE+ also has powerful text cleaning tools, the best AppleScript integration I’ve encountered in any application at any price, and it even supports inline graphics and audio if one OS so inclined.

Consequently, Tex-Edit Plus has been my primary writing tool for some 15 years now, and with Tom having recently upgraded it for OS X 10.7 Lion/10.8 Mountain Lion compatibility, its position seems assured for the foreseeable future. The latest version 4.9.13 also still supports OS X 10.4 Tiger, so I have seamless document compatibility across all three of my production Macs, which include two dozen-year-old and counting Pismo PowerBooks. Tex-Edit Plus also supports Apple’s OS X Automator, which has received a major upgrade for Lion and Mountain Lion. With 36 custom Automator actions and unrivaled AppleScript recordability, Tex-Edit allows you to create custom scripts and workflows with the click of a button.

When I do need the greater power of a full word processor (or just Word document support with formatting reasonably intact) I use either Libre Office or Google Docs—both of which are free. I also use OS X’s bundled TextEdit app. for some utilitarian tasks, and also Bare Bones Software’s freeware companion to BBEdit TextWrangler for certain functions it supports that TE+ doesn’t, including the indispensible “Zap Gremlins” command..

Of course for the past 19 months, I’ve also been working on an iPad, and while I consider the iOS experience second class computing compared to a Mac—and worse than second class when it comes to working with text—the convenience, comfort and spontaneity provided by the iPad is winning me over, and there are some very nice text editor/processor apps available for iOS (many with Dropbox linking). There are even a few word processors that can open and save MS Word documents. However, I’ve never even bothered with Apple’s Pages application for iOS (I don’t like it much on the Mac, so doubt that I’d like it any better on the iPad), and I have about zero interest in Word for iOS.

As Moltz notes, we used to print all sorts of stuff back in the ’90s that these days just gets emailed or posted to Web pages, and printing is rarely needed anymore. That’s been my operative reality for 15 years.

I’ve never had much use for spreadsheet and presentation applications, and serviceable ones are included in LibreOffice anyway.

Consequently, I agree with Moltz that Office for iOS is hardly a “killer app,” and most of us can get along quite handily without it (although it would probably be attractive to Office-addicted enterprise iPad users). So, if Office for iOS ever emerges from the vapor and makes some folks happy and improves their iPad computing experience, that will be great. It certainly can’t hurt. However, I’ll be giving it a pass, and I expect most other iOS users will as well.

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  • Mark Fuller

    I agree, especially on the iOS front. Thanks to iOS and my iPad, I’ve rediscovered the power of text and now use writing tools like iA Writer. My documents now seamlessly move between devices and don’t require a lot of overhead. Pages and other apps are still valuable, but not for my creation phase.