Apps come and go, but when it comes to software for work, Microsoft Office seems to endure. Released in 1983, the earliest versions of Office ran on MS-DOS, then lauded for its ability to display limited text formats, though fonts were still a distant dream. And two years later, Microsoft released Office for Macs, when the two companies were still on friendly terms.
As the years rolled by, Word -- and its later cousins, Excel and PowerPoint, among others -- became entrenched in offices, schools and home computers around the world, adding features and components to stay up-to-date. It's such a stalwart that it still powers much of Microsoft's revenue growth.
Even as competition ramps up from cloud-based products like Google Drive, chances are you still opened a Word, Excel or PowerPoint document to do your job. But as the workplaces become decentralized, you need agile and flexible software to work with different devices at home and on the road. Office, though, is anything but agile.
Microsoft tried to keep up -- it released Office 2013 and updated Office 365, which lets you access all its software online. But they're clunky, especially on smartphones and tablets. Need to edit Word or Excel on your phone? Have no fear -- here are some apps to help you work on your phone.
What's the App?
Even with keyboard and accessories, creating documents on an iPad is awkward. That's where CloudOn, free on iOS, delivers. You get a lot of Word, Excel and PowerPoint features in an elegantly, lightweight package.
The app is easy to set up. Sign up for cloud storage from Dropbox, Box, Google Drive or SkyDrive and login from within the app. It connects quickly and seamlessly. From there, you can edit, create and store documents on those services. CloudOn treats it like one workspace -- you can change, rename and even email and share documents.
Beyond Office, you can also read and view images, PDFs and other file types as well -- no need to open several programs.
CloudOn is basically a version of Office 2010, but it's not easy to use on a touch screen. Once you get used to the layout, though, you can easily format text with a wide choice of fonts and type styles. You can also insert page numbers and tables, but it's difficult to select the element to work with -- I had a hard time highlighting text and cells, for example, especially on the iPhone's tiny screen.
The interface shows the most popular editing and reviewing tools upfront, with a lot of functions tucked away due to the limited screen space. It's hard to find everything you need, but it's all there. There are a few idiosyncrasies, too. I noticed when you hold the backspace key down, it doesn't keep deleting.
Excel's functions are mostly there, but macro or VBA functions are missing, so you can't run complex spreadsheets or merge documents with source files. You can import pictures, though, but it's not very intuitive and takes a few steps.
Working remotely with others is tricky, too -- you can only share and email files from the File view, for example, and not the Recent Files tab. And you need a constant 3G connection, but if your Internet drops out, don't panic -- it all auto-saves everything. Undoing unwanted changes is a pain, though.
The biggest drawback is the mouse controls. Simple tasks like drag and drop, arranging items and even navigation are often tedious. The pinch-to-zoom is scrolling is great, but you'll need to tap or hold a lot, or various combinations of the two. The software runs quickly, but the usability could be easier.
You'll Want It If
You work on multiple devices, within multiple settings and use several storage services shared between your co-workers, and you need a simple yet powerful way to look at documents on your phone or tablet. For a free app, CloudOn does a lot. And if you need to untether from a PC or laptop, it gets the job done nicely.
It's Not My Thing -- What Else Ya Got?
If you want to do away with the PC or laptop and just do all your work on an iPad, CloudOn is simply too limited -- it's designed for on-the-go work. To turn the tablet into a spreadsheet-making, presentation-designing, word-processing workhorse, you need a more robust app like QuickOffice Pro HD for iPad or Android.
Both versions cost $20, but it's well worth it for the full access to functions like formatting and tracking, as well as seamless saving and updating to cloud services like Google Drive. There's a bit of lag as you type, though, but QuickOffice is one of the best office apps around. Google bought it out earlier, so it'll tie to more services in the future.
Microsoft's Office app won't arrive until late 2014, so you'll have to improvise a patchwork of apps and cloud services until then. CloudOn isn't the most powerful or agile solution, but for its price and convenience, it's a great stop-gap for any on-the-go worker that doesn't want to lug around extra devices.