Apple hopes to take on Microsoft Office 365 and Google Drive with its own iWork in the Cloud.
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Apple introduced iWork in the Cloud on Monday, a new browser-based version of its productivity suite that will work not only on Macs, but on Windows PCs as well. It's a clear shot across the bows of both Microsoft and Google, which offer their own cloud-based productivity tools, Office 365 and Google Drive, respectively.
iWork in the Cloud encompasses Pages, Numbers and Keynote, Apple's clones of Microsoft Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Before this week, iWork worked only on devices running Apple's OS X and iOS platforms. Now, it will work on at least one, if not two, more platforms. This is a significant strategy shift for Apple, which has rarely ported its own software and services to non-Apple hardware (iTunes and Safari for Windows being the major exceptions).
Apple didn't share too many details, but here's what we know so far.
1. Limited Beta
iWork in the Cloud is part of the OS X Mavericks beta program. Right now, only registered Apple developers have access to Mavericks and iWork in the Cloud. That means most businesses and customers won't be able to test it out until the fall, when Mavericks is expected to debut.
2. Limited Functionality
Thanks to the beta nature of the service, it doesn't support nearly as many features as Office 365 or Google Drive. Apple demonstrated how easy it is to drag-and-drop files from Microsoft Office into the browser and edit them, but there are plenty of collaboration tools missing. For example, files can't be easily shared with others. iWork in the Cloud doesn't yet support printing, or version history, or editing tables in Pages and Keynote. Important functions such as these will be added later. Apple didn't say if or how iWork in the Cloud would support documents created in Google Drive.
iWork in the Cloud will work in Apple's own Safari browser (6.0.3 or later), as well as Chrome 27.0.1 or later, and Internet Explorer 9.0.8 or later. If you use Opera or Firefox, you're out of luck; iWork in the Cloud won't work. Businesses and consumers who use Windows PCs will eventually be able to take advantage of iWork in the Cloud, and, presumably, so will people who use Google's Chrome-based machines.
4. Syncing Features Unknown
Apple said that integration with iCloud will be major part of OS X Mavericks and iWork in the Cloud, but it left out plenty of details. Will iWork in the Cloud be free to all, or just free to people who've already downloaded iWork for their desktop? Will it sync documents, along with their changes, seamlessly between multiple machines? Where does iOS fit into the picture? And what will Windows users do who want or need to download their files to an actual machine? Speaking of machines, Apple didn't say if iWork in the Cloud supports local storage at all.
5. Questionable Reliability
Apple's success rate with cloud-based services is not all that great. The MobileMe launch several years ago was an absolute disaster. The late and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously screamed at Apple staff when MobileMe fell flat on its face.
Further, iCloud's launch wasn't trouble-free, either. Developers are still grumbling about its problems, which Apple did not address during its WWDC keynote at all. It is entirely possible that Apple will have all of iCloud's kinks worked out by the time OS X Mavericks and iWork in the Cloud launch later this year, but it will have to prove that the system works as advertised. Some may adopt iWork in the Cloud with blind trust in Apple's servers, but businesses should be wary.
Considering all the unknowns, Apple has a lot to prove here, especially considering how strong the entrenched players are. Microsoft and Google, for their part, won't give up without a fight.
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