Software

Microsoft Office on iOS/Android: Just do it already

If Microsoft wants to regain their position at the top of the tech heap, they need to embrace iOS and Android fans with Office.

For various reasons that I've discussed before, I'm still waiting for Windows Phone to win me over — and in the meantime, I'm using an Android device (Galaxy Nexus) as my primary smartphone. One of the reasons I'm tempted to switch to Windows Phone, though, is the mobile Office suite.

Sure, I can (and do) use Quickoffice Pro or Documents To Go for working with the Microsoft Office file formats. Similarly, iPhone/iPad users can use Quickoffice Pro or DTG, or they can buy Apple's iWork apps. Still, it's not quite the same as having "real" versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel on your phone or tablet.

Microsoft has already given us a taste. I have Android versions of OneNote and Lync installed on my devices, and those apps are available for iOS through Apple's App Store, as well. As Scott Hanselman's blog post says, it's getting easier and easier to live the "Microsoft lifestyle" using non-Microsoft operating systems. But I (and quite a few others I've talked to) want more.

Coming soon or not?

For the past few weeks, the rumors have been swirling around about the possibility of an imminent release of Microsoft Office for the iPad. According to the above-linked story in the Daily, it's already been developed and some folks have already gotten their hands on a working prototype.

Other sources have disputed the claim, and an official Microsoft statement called the Daily story "based on inaccurate rumors and speculation" — but stopped short of saying the company has no plans to release Office for Apple iOS, leaving that door open and keeping the rumor mill churning. Meanwhile, the same sources that insist Office for iOS is coming soon have also commented that a version for Android is not in the works. That's a disappointment to me and many other owners of Android devices.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Those who really want to use Office on their iDevices and Droids didn't have to wait around for Microsoft to release those apps. In keeping with Microsoft's own advice to go "to the cloud," they could instead use the OnLive hosted service that recently started offering remote access to a Windows desktop running Microsoft Office applications. You could choose from a free version or a paid one that included 50GB of cloud storage, additional PC applications, and "accelerated browsing."

The OnLive service garnered praise from many corners, including both Windows and Mac expert bloggers. Chris Maxcer over at MacNewsWorld described the experience thusly: "How well does it work? Wow is how well it works."

But there's just one not-so-little problem

In the last few days, the waste byproducts seem to have hit the oscillating instrument, with Microsoft making the statement that the OnLive offering is not properly licensed. According to a Microsoft blog post a few days ago, the two companies are "actively engaged" to bring the service into a "properly licensed scenario."

Where does that leave OnLive and its users? We're not sure, but it's likely that Paul Thurrott is correct in speculating that at best, OnLive is going to get more expensive.

Microsoft should share the love

Should Microsoft make Office apps for users of non-Microsoft devices? Should they make it easy for services such as OnLive to offer hosted solutions that let users have the "real deal" Office experience on those devices? Or would that be a case of shooting their own market in the foot?

On the surface, there are good reasons for Microsoft to want to keep Office all to itself. It's a cash cow, and despite the best efforts of competitors (Apple, OpenOffice.org, Corel), it's still overwhelmingly the "gold standard" when it comes to productivity applications. I love my Office programs, and no matter how much anyone says Product X is "almost the same" or "offers 95% of the functionality," that's not good enough for me.

As a professional writer and sometimes speaker, I spend most of every day in Word or PowerPoint. As a self-employed sole proprietor, I spend large chunks of time (especially around tax deadlines) in Excel. I've tried all the substitutes and found them wanting in one way or another. I know many others who feel the same way.

If Microsoft limited Office apps to running on its own operating systems only, that might be reason enough for some people to use Windows/Windows Phone instead of Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android. But it wouldn't delight the customer to have to switch just for that reason. Today, we live in a heterogeneous technology world. We want to be able to move seamlessly between devices, including devices running different operating systems.

Keeping Office locked into Windows sounds like an Apple strategy. I've been arguing that if Microsoft wants to regain their position at the top of the tech heap, they need to stop copying Apple's walled garden approach and open their corporate arms to embrace iOS and Android fans. Office is something that many of those "alternative OS" users want. Microsoft should give them what they want. Far from "enabling" them to stay in their Windowless worlds, I think the "catch more flies with honey" approach will, in the long run, bring more into the OS fold.

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About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

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