Why I can live without Office for iPad

I've owned an iPad for almost four years, and during that time have developed a workflow for handling Office documents when I'm on the move. Office for iPad comes several years too late for me.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
Excel on the iPad
(Source: Microsoft)

Last week Microsoft made the headlines by finally acknowledging that iOS is a credible content creation platform and releasing a version of Office that's compatible with the iPad. There's no doubt that this is a monumental time for mobile computing, and it's no coincidence that in the run up to this release the Redmond giant's share price broke $40 a share for the first since July 2000.

I've taken a look at Office for iPad and there's no doubt that it's an impressive piece of software.  At a time when Microsoft is hell-bent on going against what its customers want – think Windows 8, or the abolition of the TechNet program – it's comforting to see that Microsoft can deliver a product that people want. I agree with out Mr. Kendrick that it represents one of Microsoft's finest moments.

But I won't be using Office for iPad, and this decision has nothing to do with the BYOD licensing minefield, the cost (shop around if you want the Home Premium version, you can pick up an Office 365 subscription gift card on Amazon.com for under $70, saving you $30), or the fact that I can't print from the app.

The reason – actually, as you will see, there are several reasons – I'm giving Office for iPad a wide berth is, quite simply, because I can.

See, I've owned an iPad for almost four years, and back then being able to work with Office documents was a priority for me. Back in April 2010 I couldn't wait four years for Microsoft to get its act together and come out with Office for iPad so I had to find alternatives.

And pretty soon there were a raft of apps that could handle Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. Sure, they didn't support ever feature that Word, Excel or PowerPoint on the desktop could spit out, but I'm and 80/20 sort of guy, and I use about 20 percent of what these applications have to offer a good 80 percent of the time. Most of the time apps such as Quickoffice (free), Docs to Go, or Office² Plus (free) work just fine for me, and on the rare occasion when these don't work – and to be honest with you I can't remember the last time I had to do this – I can fire up one of my remote PCs back at the PC Doc HQ using Parallels Access or LogMeIn and work on the document remotely.  

Then there's Evernote, which has truly revolutionized the way I work across my devices.

In other words, Microsoft's reluctance to embrace iOS early on meant I had to develop a workflow that within this vacuum. I'm now reluctant to pay Microsoft a yearly subscription to modify a workflow that is tried and battlefield tested.

And anyway, if all I want to do is review documents, I can do this using Office for iPad for free. But even as freebie viewer apps, I'm reluctant to give up 250 megabytes of iPad space per app when I have alternatives that work fine.

Another factor is that I'm moving – slowly – away from Microsoft, and I'm not the only one. "Do you have Microsoft Office?" used to be a common question from people wanting to collaborate and send me documents, but over the years that has changed to "Do you have OpenOffice?" and then to "Do you have Google Docs?"

Then there's fragmentation. The more I drift away from the Windows ecosystem, the more I notice how much of a bad job Microsoft does of supporting other platforms. Office on the Windows desktop is a very different animal to Office for Mac and Office for iPad.  This means that even if I'm sticking with Microsoft my workflow has to vary between different platforms. I'd pay for a greater level of unification, but I find it hard to stomach paying for a fragmented workflow when I can get that cheaper – or for free – elsewhere.

Another factor is my reluctance to buy into yet another subscription plan. When it comes to Adobe's Creative Cloud there really is no alternative as the competition is a decade behind – and don't tell me that GIMP or Paint.NET or whatever is a substitute for Photoshop – but there are countless free and low-cost alternatives to Office, especially at my level (remember, I'm and 80/20 guy these days, and I no longer develop macros, templates and such for the platform).

Don't get me wrong, Office for iPad is a great app, but for me it comes years too late. If this had been on the scene two or three years ago then I probably would have been the first in line to jump into the apps, but time has moved on and I'm comfortable with my existing workflow for now. 

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