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Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Assessing options for running Office on your tablet

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2012 First published in Business in Vancouver May 15-22, 2012 Issue #1177 High Tech Office column; reposted on LowEndMac.com as: 3 Ways to Use Microsoft Office on Your iPad

Popular wisdom holds that a tech device needs to run Microsoft Office in order to be successful with business users.

There are no versions of Microsoft Office designed to run on tablets like Apple's iPad or Android-powered models; despite this, business users are buying lots of tablets - especially iPads. While lacking Microsoft's seal of approval, there are many iPad and Android apps to view Microsoft Office documents on tablets with several (including QuickOffice, Documents to Go, and Apple's iWorks apps for iPad) allowing editing of existing documents.

If you really want to, though, there are ways to run "real" Microsoft Office on iPads and other tablets. Here are a few:

Remote Access

You can remotely access a "real" computer - Windows or Mac - with any of a variety of remote access services, opening Office (or other applications), opening saved documents, and making changes as needed, all on your tablet screen. I like the free LogMeIn service, which does not require complex set up or poking holes in firewalls - a practice that's (with reason) frowned on by IT departments.

Nice feature: Remote access gives you access to any document or program that you can open or run on your "real" computer. Less nice: Controlling the larger screen of your "real" computer using fingertips on a smaller tablet screen is awkward.

OnLive Desktop

Online service OnLive offers broadband access to PC games streamed from OnLive's servers, playable on non-PC devices. This winter, they expanded on this technology, offering OnLive Desktop, which provides access to a Windows desktop complete with Microsoft Office 2010 to iPad and Android tablet users.

Free accounts get a stripped-down version of Windows with the Office applications, Internet Explorer, and not much else. No Control Panel or ability to add additional applications. Need to type? OnLive sessions make use of Windows' touch features - including onscreen keyboard - rather than native iPad controls.

Free accounts also get 2 GB of online storage. In order to edit an existing document, it first needs to be uploaded from a users' PC or Mac - more storage and additional features (including support for Flash animations and popular online storage service Dropbox) are available with paid accounts, starting at $5/month.

The miracle is that it works as well as it does. The problems, however, include (again) the awkwardness of controlling a full desktop system with fingertips on a tablet. As well, the OnLive Desktop system is completely independent from the tablet it's running on. Want to check your email on your iPad? You'll have to log back into OnLive Desktop. Want to copy and paste information from that open Word document to an email message? Sorry, you can't.


CloudOn (iPad only) tries to do less than OnLive Desktop: While OnLive offers a full Windows desktop, a free account and app from CloudOn just lets you run Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Adobe Reader fullscreen. In this case, though, doing less may mean doing better.

Not having a miniaturized Windows start menu makes opening the applications easier, as does having the applications running full screen. CloudOn rearranges the Office apps' Ribbon Bar icons to make them more finger-friendly and uses the native iPad virtual keyboard.

CloudOn supports cloud file-storage services Dropbox and Box.com, as well as Google's new Google Drive (which integrates with Google Docs). Many users already have files stored on one or another of these services.

Google does not yet offer Google Docs editing on the iPad; with CloudOn, Google Docs files now can be edited on an iPad in the more powerful Microsoft Office applications. CloudOn suffers, however, from the same disconnect from the rest of the iPad's system as OnLive Desktop. Still, I find it the best way to run the Microsoft Office suite on my iPad.

All of these ways of using Microsoft Office on a tablet require broadband Internet and will work slower with 3G mobile access than with WiFi; I haven't tested them with the faster LTE available on new iPads (or Android tablets), but that should be an improvement.