CloudOn: Microsoft Office on your iPad, or not?

Sections: Features, Hands On / First Looks, iDevice Apps, iPad, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad

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I was moderately excited when I heard about CloudOn, a new, free iPad application that purports to let you create, view, and edit files directly in Microsoft Word, Excel & PowerPoint on the tablet. I don’t use any MS Office programs on my Mac, but given the paucity of choices in text-crunchers and text formats supported by the iOS, this sounded like pretty good news.

However, upon downloading CloudOn and checking out its Word module, I came away disappointed. Perhaps it’s partly because of my lack of familiarity with current versions of Word for Mac. Back in the day, Word 5.1 was my main writing program, but I jumped ship with the introduction of the execrable Word 6 (AKA Word for Windows for the Mac), and never returned. Ancient history.

I’ll put it this way, CloudOn’s Word facsimile does nothing to entice me back. Of course, that can’t be blamed on Microsoft, but the execution of CloudOn’s Word module is so clunky that there’s no way I would ever consider doing anything with it beyond using it as a “can-opener” app for viewing, and perhaps editing Word documents that come my way on the iPad.

This screed is not intended to be a full review of CloudOn, since the app’s angularities dissuaded me from exploring its capabilities very extensively.

For starters, while CloudOn supports Dropbox synching, and does so very well, it couldn’t open most of the content in my Dropbox Folder, which is full of plain text (.txt) files. I mean, c’mon. There’s nothing more basic than a text file, especially in the iOS orbit, but no go.

Strike two was my early discovery that while one can select and copy text from a CloudOn Word document, you can’t paste it into a text document in another application (such as the NotePad or PlainText) via the Clipboard. Nor can you copy and paste text from another app.’s plain text document into a CloudOn Word document. This deficiency renders CloudOn Word essentially useless for my purposes.

My workaround for the iOS’s lack of multitasking support is to shuttle bac and forth among two or three text applications, cutting and pasting as needed. Can’t do that with CloudOn Word. Even within the app, text selection support is incredibly clunky.

However, even if text copy and paste did work satisfactorily, CloudOn Word makes switching back and forth among apps painful, in that it closes the active document when you switch away to another app., making it necessary to reload the workspace, then root through the Dropbox file list, and re-open the document. Life is too short.

Incidentally, there’s another new iPad app that claims to provide a seamless, no-compromise, instant-response Cloud-based MS Office PC desktop on the iPad. OnLive Desktop is like CloudOn free, but instead of using DropBox, OnLive Desktop has its own Cloud Storage, which is also free up to 2 GB.

OnLive Desktop looks very pretty in screenshots, but I can’t evaluate it beyond that because it’s not yet available on the Canadian App Store. I just get a “Your request can’t be completed” dialog when I try.

However, if you’re in the U.S., you can take a look for yourself or sign up for free OnLive Desktop account and 2 GB storage.

Getting back to CloudOn, whatever virtues it may have beyond the deal-breaker limitations outlined above will have to remain lost on me, but if you think you can work around them, you’ll need to open  a Dropbox account if you don’t already have one. No hardship in that; Dropbox is great for a whole bunch of reasons, and it’s free up to 2 GB storage.

Or, alternatively, you can sign up when you launch CloudOn for the first time.

CloudOn’s WorkSpace allows you to:

  • Use Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint on your iPad to create or edit documents
  • Rename, delete and manage documents with your Dropbox account
  • Display, edit or create charts, change formatting, spell check, insert comments, into any Word, Excel or PowerPoint files
  • Track changes while reviewing Word documents
  • Use pivot tables and insert formulas in Excel workbooks
  • Display and edit animation or transitions in PowerPoint presentations
  • Present in full PowerPoint mode (not in PDF)
  • Open files directly from your iPad email accounts or Dropbox account
  • Automatically save documents to avoid losing changes

CloudOn is compatible with iPad and requires iOS 4.2 or later.

Product [CloudOn]

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    I would have to completely disagree with you on your review. I have used both cloudon and onlive documents and cloud on is so much easier to use. I love the fact you can use the native iPad keyboard and it is nice that I can work on my files and have them all updated at the same time since my Dropbox is on every device. I suggest you use the app a little more and I think you appreciate what they have done!!!

  • Mark Challender

    I agree with the comments above. I have been using Cloudon since it’s launch and it just keeps getting better. Know that an iPhone version is available I can sync seamless between mobile and laptop using DropBox. Copy and past function works very well.

  • Handy Andy

    CloudOn was turned CloudOff, bailed out by DropBox.
    CloudOn insists they are legal; however they are not.
    They reported 9 million users; if anyone virtualizes office on a server you pay a per user instance license fee to Microsoft.
    In no way would MS offer office for $100 per user office 365; then give it away free for a company to rip it.
    Even if you virtualize it internally for your company to have office on all their computers you pay a per user fee.
    I suspect CloudOn got shutdown due to legalities