Microsoft Office For iPad Rumored Coming, But Do We Really Need It? – The ‘Book Mystique

It’s conventional wisdom that Microsoft’s category-defining Office productivity suite not being available for the iPad is stalling adoption of Apple’s tablet in the enterprise. There’s perhaps something to that, but I think less so than some folks imagine.

We may soon find out according to ZNet’s Mary Jo Foley, who commented on the weekend that full-featured, industrial-grade Office for iPad, codenamed Miramar, might ever beat Microsoft’s own touch-first Office implementation for Windows, codenamed “Gemini, to market, possibly as soon as sometime in the first half of calendar 2014 according to scuttlebutt she’s hearing.

Of course, business tablet users who opt for Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet can run the full desktop version of Office, and a stripped-down, touch and pen input optimized version of the suite called Office RT is available for the Windows RT operating system running Surface 2 tablet, but Microsoft themselves say Office 2013 RT is not designed for commercial, nonprofit, or revenue-generating activities, and only organizations that purchase commercial use rights or have a commercial license to Office 2013 suites that include Outlook can task Office 2013 RT for such uses.

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Ms. Foley notes that Microsoft executives are declining comment on an Office version for the iPad, but she affirms that it’s coming, and sooner than many think.

Office is already available for iOS, at least on the iPhone, sort of. Office Mobile can be downloaded from the App Store, and provides iPhone users specifically with access to cloud-connected documents, provided they have a MS Office 365 subscription, and we can anticipate that any Office for the iPad will be subject to similar conditions.

So a pertinent question is whether Apple device users, iPad or Mac for that matter, really need Microsoft Office as much as is widely presumed. In my estimation, the purported make or break importance of Office is greatly exaggerated in today’s context. There are a variety of productivity suites available for both Apple OS platforms that can open Word documents and save in Word format, including Apple’s own iWork apps which are now bundled for free with all new Macs and iPads.

As Mac360’s Kate Mackenzie observed recently, “Apple has already shipped a few hundred million iPads to eager buyers, and not one of them has Office, and, guess what? Nobody cares. The reason iPad users really, truly, deeply need Office on their iPads is because beleaguered Microsoft really, truly, deeply, as well as profoundly, needs the money, and some kind of presence in the mobile industry mostly dominated by arch nemesis Apple…. As it turns out, iPhone and iPad users don’t care about Office, [so] selling Office for, say, $49 to iPad and iPhone users seems like a tough sell since the capable and usable Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are free.”

I’m a productivity-oriented user of both platforms, and have gotten along just great without MS Office for many years now, although freelance writing is of course an outlier from typical enterprise usage.

When I first started using Macs 22 years ago, I was a big Microsoft Word fan, but Word 5.1 for Mac was the last version of the application I ever bought. I still remember it fondly as the word processor benchmark by which I evaluate others, but I switched to using mainly text editors for word-crunching in the mid-late ’90s, and have never looked back. That’s not an option for everybody who uses computers as tools of their livelihood, but for me the limited extent I’m obliged to open Word-format documents, or to create the occasional formatted text document for my own purposes, I’ve found that alternatives do what I need to do.

For some time now, that’s been Open Source Libre Office (and more recently Pages that came with my new MacBook Air on the Mac); and on the iPad CloudOn (basic version free, CloudOn Pro -$3.99), or UX Write ($24.99).

This article is mainly about productivity apps for the iPad, but serious pro and enterprise iPad users will likely also have or at least have access to a Mac or Windows PC, and if you need to have heavy-duty office app power, Libre Office should be more than adequate. It has six distinct app modules Writer (analogous to Word), Calc (Excel), Impress (PowerPoint), Draw (a vector drawing app), Base (database front end), and Math (equation editor), plus a built-in PDF file creation app. For free.

Also free is OpenOffice, on which Libre Office is based, but personally I prefer Libre Office.

However, there’s a growing consensus among the commentariat that the tablet-oriented post-PC era is also the post-MS Office era. Neither PCs nor Office will be disappearing any time soon, but many iPad users are deciding that it’s time to move on largely without them.

It’s still a matter of controversy and conjecture as to whether an iPad Pro with a 13-inch display is in the pipeline for release later this year, but it’s looking likelier all the time, and if such a machine does become reality, it will be fascinating to see how it impacts the Office for iPad issue.

According to the usually reliable KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo in a research note cited by MacRumors’ Richard Padilla, Apple will most likely release an upgraded iPad Air this year, with rollout of a 12.9-inch “iPad Pro to come either in early 2015, logically around Apple’s formerly traditional late-winter iPad announcement time, or at the earliest late this year with limited supply. Mr. Kuo’s research note also says Apple expects the 12.9-inch iPad will act as a catalyst for developers to create more interactive apps for its bigger screen.

And if MS actually does release Office for the iPad with its typically high subscription prices, whether business and other productivity oriented iPad users, who’ve by now had a taste of free or relatively inexpensive MS Office surrogates, be willing to pony up.

In my estimation, there are other issues more important than MS Office compatibility inhibiting the iPad from serving as a satisfactory replacement for a PC, such as its lack of support for real, multi-windowed multitasking, no file-level directory user access, and its minimal and constricted connectivity. If Apple could be persuaded to address those shortcomings, I think a lot of folks would be prepared to jump into the post-PC era with both feet — regardless of whether there’s Microsoft Office support or not.

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