Microsoft Office for iPad is big news…for some

Sections: Features, iDevice Apps, iPad, iPad Air, iPad mini, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, Opinions and Editorials, Originals

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Microsoft blogger John Case officially dropped the word (pun intended) on March 27th that Microsoft has finally made Office for iOS—long-anticipated by many—a reality.

Case noted that over a billion people worldwide use Microsoft’s Office productivity suite, and now with the release of Office for iPad, that could theoretically reach 200 million iPad users…if they so desire. I expect that only a small minority of iPad users will use it, and personally, Office for iPad amounts to a big ho-hum. I don’t even use Office/MS Word on my Macs, and haven’t used Office applications for production since Word 5.1 in the mid/late 1990s when I switched to mainly text editors. I’ll be giving Word for iPad a pass, and I expect many other iPad users will as well.

Office for iPad

When I do need full word processor power, on the Mac I usually switch to Open Source Libre Office, my favorite of the several alternative productivity suites for OS X. There are several iPad apps that can open and save basic Word documents, although they’re typically hit or miss (mostly miss) at preserving any complex formatting, but that’s not a major issue for me. I’ll probably also use Pages some as well since it came loaded up on my new MacBook Air, and it’ll be on my next iPad too. Consequently, Office for iPad, such as it is, is largely irrelevant for me.

That said, I can appreciate that for iPad users obliged to work in Office-centric environments, Office for iPad will be exciting news.

Office for iPad

Office for iPad is now available for download from the Apple App Store. With the free versions of the Office apps, you can read Word documents, view Excel data and present with PowerPoint. Case promises that documents opened with iPad for Office apps will look as good as they do on a PC and Mac (and better than ever on your iPad), and early third-party reviews confirm that claim is valid. Nice to know, but I often go for literally months without ever printing anything out in hard copy, and most of my files are stored in plain text formats.

As for the supposedly “free” Office for iPad, there’s a catch; it’s essentially a document viewer, so unless you pony up for a Microsoft Office 365 subscription, you won’t be able to edit or create new documents with the iPad app, and Office 365 will cost you. A lot. $99.99 a year, or US$9.99 a month. If you’re an enterprise or professional iPad user, you may find that increased Office compatibility is worth the heavy tariff, and you can probably write it off as a business expense. Bbut it makes little sense for non-business/institutional users with no compelling need for full Office compatibility, such as having to share files with folks who are joined at the hip to Office. There are so many excellent inexpensive or free alternatives available (again, notably the Apple iWork apps, the iPad versions of which offer near-desktop levels of editing ability, and can import and export Microsoft Office formatted documents).

As AppleInsider’s Daniel Eran Dilger observed in a weekend commentary, Microsoft Office remained a $500 commercial software suite right up until Apple released iWork selling for substantially less, and a variety of web-oriented productivity suites such as Google Docs appeared. With competition restored, it will be very hard for Microsoft to jack the price of its software back up into the stratosphere.

Office for iPad

If Office for iPad will make you more productive or open up the possibility to use the iPad as a platform for the stuff you do, more power to you. Reportedly, it’s a very nice piece of software that works well and looks great doing it.

However, the main productivity obstacles and handicaps in using an iPad as a productivity platform are the lack of support for multiple open windows and real multitasking, no user access to the file directory for such things as uploading image files to Web posting engines, clumsy and inconsistent touch copy/cut/paste functions, lack of mouse support, and so forth. If Apple would address those issues in the iOS, I could get very excited. But until then, Office for iPad is just an interesting addition to the vast inventory of iOS apps.

You can download WordExcel and PowerPoint for iPad—as well as OneNote—now from the iTunes App Store.

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