Are you one of the twisted folks who thinks that an iPad isn’t useful unless you can use it to edit Microsoft Office documents? Well you can un-twist, now that CloudOn is on the scene!
That’s right — you can edit your Word docs, Powerpoint slide decks, and Excel spreadsheets, directly from your iPad. Read on for more info.
There are two requirements because of the way onCloud works:
- You must have an active internet connection
- You must have either Dropbox or Box.net for storage
Before I get into the gritty details of what’s going on behind the scenes, here are some screen shots in case you don’t believe it…
Using Microsoft Word from an iPad:
Microsoft Excel — from your iPad:
Yes, PowerPoint too — using an iPad:
Under the Hood
So how does this work? Do these guys have magic mojo to cram MS Office into an iPad somehow? Have they found a way around the platform issues? It’s surprisingly easy once you see what’s going on.
When you sign up (for free — not sure what their revenue model is just yet) they ask you to hook into either your Dropbox account or your Box.net account. And if your connection ever goes down you can’t do anything. Those two items drive me to one conclusion, which is bolstered by the odd “crunchiness” seen on screen when you scroll around. (You see v coarse JPEG compression when you’re scrolling, but it catches up quickly with very crisp high-resolution imagery once you stop scrolling.)
It’s all virtual! None of the MS action is happening on your iPad at all.
Instead, it happens on a virtual machine at cloudOn that has MS Office running on it. You’re seeing the on-screen representation of what’s going on at the virtual machine, as if you clicked a mouse on a desktop computer wherever you tap your finger on your iPad. The coordinates of your tap are sent to the remote computer, and the resulting on-screen response is then returned to your iPad.
That’s why you have to have a cloud-storage account (Dropbox or Box.net) and an active internet connection. Without the storage, cloudOn would have nowhere to put your stuff (since it’s not on your iPad). Without an active connection, you can’t send taps/clicks and can’t receive screen updates to see what’s going on.
Still, it’s pretty neat!
Other screen shots:
When browsing your files as shown above (whether via Dropbox or via Box.net) you can tap-to-open, or tap-and-hold to see a menu of actions you can take on any particular file — including delete, copy, rename and so forth.
There’s no specific file-save functionality; any changes you make to the document get committed, period. But since you’re using Dropbox or Box.net you can utilize their historical-change-tracking features to “roll back” to a previous version if you need to.
When you’re editing any (Word, Excel or PowerPoint) file, you can tap the dark gray title bar at the top of your screen to get to the CloudOn menus:
- The “Views” menu lets you switch between file-listing views: detail, icons, and “flow”
- The “CloudOn” menu gives you access to settings (and it’s an easy place to check to be sure you’re still connected for when you have trouble)
- The “Apps” menu lets you create a new Word, Excel or PowerPoint document
- You also get the folder-path that contains the item you’re editing, making it easy to navigate to another document or folder with a tap or two.
So you need cloud storage and must be online with a good, solid connection.
But the biggest problem is, the iPad isn’t really designed to be a production platform. It’s a consumption platform: you tap, you read, you listen, you browse, you view, you learn, you absorb… But creating advanced works on an iPad the way you can in desktop Photoshop or MS Word is quite a stretch.
Your finger is big enough that you’ll likely have trouble tapping on the exact button/control/thing/word that you intend to. If you have a bluetooth keyboard for your iPad you’ll be better off, but it’s still a bit odd to have a desktop-designed product represented live, on your iPad.
The biggest win is, you don’t have to buy another Office Licen$e to use CloudOn. They’ve got that taken care of and you can use their license to edit stuff directly on your documents stored on Dropbox or Box.net.
As of April 2012 the CloudOn iPad app is free, and signing up for an account didn’t cost me anything either. (First install the app, and when you run it you can create a new account. If you try doing this on their website you’ll be taken to their contact info form to be put on a list.)
There are others out there doing the remote-desktop/virtual-computer offering:
- Nivio has a full remote desktop experience for your browser (any browser, not just an iPad)
- EyeOS is an interesting alternative — as open source you can install it on your own machines or sign up for a free account
I don’t think the iPad will be a serious contender for using Office applications anytime soon — but in a pinch (or an Airport) you can now tweak your documents from anywhere, without even cracking open a laptop. Woo hoo!