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Office on iPad and Mac: Late's Just Barely Better Than Never

Office on iPad and Mac: Late's Just Barely Better Than Never

Microsoft is reportedly working on a new version of Office for iPad, as well as one designed specifically for OS X Lion. It's about time. Office is nearly ubiquitous in the corporate world, but every day that Microsoft sits on its thumbs and doesn't invest is another day an iPad user or Mac user will habitually turn to another app to get the job done.

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
12/01/11 5:00 AM PT

There's a new rumor circulating this week: Microsoft is working on a version of its Office business suite for the iPad, along with a Mac OS X Lion version, according to The Daily, citing unnamed sources. The Lion version will be available via the Mac App Store.

About freaking time!

I'm not exactly a fan of Microsoft Office apps -- Word, PowerPoint, Excel -- because I tend to find them bloated and over-featured for my personal and work needs. The same goes for Apple's iWork as well, though it is a little less cluttered than its Redmond-based counterparts.

I actually prefer the lean and mean TextEdit app that ships with all Macs as part of OS X, but damn, most of the business world (and PC users I know) all too often use Word (and PowerPoint and Excel) files, including the .docx file versions that all-too-often give me fits when I try to open them with applications other than Microsoft Word.

Whenever someone sends me a .docx file, I invariably groan. I can usually get it open in one app or another, but sometimes things just don't translate completely with the formatting and features. Most recently, I almost missed a bunch of comments and revisions from a guy because they wouldn't show up in iWork for me ... and I almost bought Office on the spot as a download from Amazon.com. But I hate to shell out $110 for something I don't really want and only barely need.

In my experience, some things that should technically be compatible simply aren't always compatible -- for no explicable or discernible reason to end users.

I've been using an older version of Office on a much older Mac that's sitting mostly idle in the house when these situations arise That's because my older version of Office was rendered useless on my MacBook by my upgrade to Mac OS Lion. The latest version of Office for the Mac with the 2011 moniker, depending on what package you buy, will mostly run fine on Lion, but I'd rather wait for a version that's completely ready.

And Get It From the Mac App Store

As it turns out, I'm now a Mac App Store snob. The buying, download, install and update process has been so smooth for me that I now avoid installing old-school CD- or DVD-based applications, as well as downloads. I don't ever want to have any issues with installing, upgrading or deleting applications from my Mac ever again, and so far, the Mac App Store has been flawless for me.

The downside: The Daily also reports that Microsoft isn't expected to ship the next version of Microsoft Office for the Mac until late 2012. (Insert growl of annoyance here.) Another year? That sucks. So here's what will likely happen:

  • I'll bite the bullet and buy Office for Mac 2011 anyway
  • I'll survive long enough to avoid Office for Mac 2011 and upgrade to the "iWork '12" apps when they come out
  • If I like iWork '12 -- and if it is uber compatible -- it'll be too late for Microsoft at all for me
  • My last-ditch option (that I'm avoiding) is installing VMware or Parallels to run Windows 7 and a native version of Office (too expensive, but arguably my most seamless method of compatibility for working with some of my PC-focused peers)

Too Little Too Late

Meanwhile, Microsoft's rumored version of Office for the iPad is expected to come much sooner than the Mac version, maybe in early 2012. That would be a good move. The last big business meeting I was in, all I saw were iPad 2s, most of them personal acquisitions, but some corporate buys. There were about 20 people and seven iPads (and zero Android tablets). Plus, a couple iPad owners left theirs back at their desks.

The point: These people expect to work with PC-originated Office files on their iPads, and while there are apps that work with Office files in various ways, the sad fact of the matter is that more "native" apps tend to be trusted more as files get passed around, used, abused and resent. By native, I mean Microsoft Office being used to work with files originally created with Microsoft Office apps.

But every day that Microsoft sits on its thumbs and doesn't invest is another day an iPad user or Mac user will habitually turn to another app to get the job done. I know an iPad 2 power user who quite likes Quickoffice Pro HD. If the wait is too long, he'll be entrenched with his current system and ignore Microsoft altogether. Any delay from Microsoft just gives Apple and its app-selling partners more time to work through bugs and figure out ways to delight their customers.

As for me, I figure Microsoft has a few months to turn me back around into a happy customer. And a Mac App Store version at a lower price point will spark a "Buy App" click pretty much immediately. I'm hoping the rumor is right about the development action and wrong about the delivery timeline.


MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at Gmail.com.


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