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11/15/2014
08:46 AM
Michael Endler
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Microsoft Office Mobile: Right For You?

Microsoft now offers free iOS and Android versions of its popular Office apps. Are they a good fit for your mobile productivity tools?
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Now that more than 40 million people have downloaded Microsoft's Office for iPad, it's easy to forget that not so long ago Microsoft seemed more likely to invest in the search for Bigfoot than in iOS software. And iOS apps that were free? Anathema to Microsoft, at least based on the signals given off over the years by former CEO Steve Ballmer.

Nevertheless, free iOS apps are just what Microsoft released this month: Office for iPads, iPhones, and, in a preview version, for Android tablets.

The free iPad version is even more polished than its paid predecessor, but the iPhone version got the biggest overhaul. The old Office Mobile for iPhone (no longer offered) was a barebones offering that didn't look like either the desktop version of Office or even an iOS app, with the few tools it had buried in a counterintuitive interface. The new free Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps for iPhones, in contrast, include most of what's found in the desktop versions and look and behave like iOS apps.

The new free mobile apps are just the latest in Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's apparent effort to redirect the company to embrace mobile. In the last few months Microsoft has launched a blitz of new and updated OneNote, Lync, Yammer, and OneDrive apps for iOS and Android devices. It also revealed plans for a new version of Office for Mac, which has been largely neglected since 2010, perhaps not coincidentally the same year iPads were released. Finally, Microsoft aims to use its cloud-based machine learning capabilities to give us products such as Clutter, which can allegedly prioritize your inbox for you, and Delve, an app through which useful information finds you, rather than the other way around.

Nadella's decision to unbundle Office from Windows and make the iOS software free is probably more practical than visionary. While waiting the long four years it took Microsoft to release Office for iPad, smartphone and tablet users were forced to turn to a variety of alternatives for mobile productivity, led by Google Apps and Apple iWork. Suddenly, many users found themselves in a world in which Office was no longer a prerequisite because these rising free competitors did the job adequately. The shift might have started as a consumer movement, but thanks to BYOD it has trickled into the workplace.

With its rich toolset, Microsoft Office is still the best productivity software for business, but consumer sales are down, especially if you don't count Office 365 revenue. Microsoft's bow to free iOS and Android apps was inevitable.

To give focus to Microsoft's new strategy, CEO Nadella has for months now floated different catchphrases in public to describe it: "mobile first, cloud first," "post-post PC," "platforms and productivity," and so on. According to a recent interview in the New York Times, he has settled on the slogan, "Getting stuff done."

The more Microsoft helps people "get stuff done" on whatever device they choose, the more likely it is to become a major mobile player, with or without making its own mobile devices.

If you're thinking there has to be a catch to the free apps, there is. You still need an Office 365 subscription to enable some tools, such as Word's Track Changes. This means many business users will still need to pay. Still, the free apps do a lot more than the old offerings, and are sure to please both consumer and business users who can do without some of Office's tools.

Are Microsoft's free mobile Office apps just what you need to remain productive while away from the desk? Click through our slideshow to see what the free Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps for iOS and Android have to offer.

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
11/27/2014 | 2:44:49 AM
Re: SoftMaker Office HD
@Michael: I use both my laptop and iPad. Having the same problem of typing a large document I prefer my tablet to review a document where I will only have to highlight certain stuff or make little corrections. To prepare a document from a scratch, I am not comfortable with the tablets even if I can use a Bluetooth keyboard.
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
11/18/2014 | 2:32:27 PM
Office for Android
"Office for Android tablets is currently available only to those who signed up for Microsoft's preview."

Office for android phones is already available in Google Play. I just downloaded. No need to sign up for the preview.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
11/18/2014 | 10:55:02 AM
Re: SoftMaker Office HD
But, with the new near-full-featured functionality of Office on iOS, it is much easier to create from scratch if the need arises.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
11/18/2014 | 10:45:14 AM
Re: SoftMaker Office HD
I have a Bluetooth keyboard that comes in handy in a pinch when I need to type up some in-depth notes quickly, but for -writing- and entire document, something like Dragon Dictation might be handier.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
11/18/2014 | 10:43:38 AM
Re: SoftMaker Office HD
Certainly.  The point of Office, for me, isn't to create stuff independently on my mobile devices; it's to seamlessly work with the documents I create on my regular old-fashioned computers.  For me, it's the two-way compatibility that's important.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
11/17/2014 | 1:26:53 PM
Re: SoftMaker Office HD
The idea of using an iPad to compose an entire article sort of terrifies me

I'm not doing that kind of writing, so Word on the iPad works great for me. For a professional writer or publisher, it probably won't be good for generation. It might work for editing, though.

The limitation is less about the software itself than the form factor of the iPad and the user interface. It's a relatively small screen and things are harder without a mouse (unless you're a shortcut key kind of person).
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/17/2014 | 1:26:28 PM
Re: SoftMaker Office HD
Thanks for the tip, Sandworm. I haven't tried SoftMaker but will have to check it out.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/17/2014 | 1:25:14 PM
Re: SoftMaker Office HD
"If you use MS Office on a Windows desktop and have a non-Windows mobile device, Office is still the best choice. The transition is now nearly seamless across multiple devices with OneDrive and Dropbox shared storage."

Indeed. While I'm sure some people with specific needs might quibble over what's "best," I've found it's quite useful to have Office on both my iPad and PC. The idea of using an iPad to compose an entire article sort of terrifies me, but I really like being able to move between devices for tweaks, proofreading, etc.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
11/17/2014 | 12:04:39 PM
Re: SoftMaker Office HD
I haven't tried SoftMaker Office HD, but probably will in the near future. I have tried a variety of other so-called "office" replacements on iOS and Android (Google, Documents to Go, QuickOffice, iWork and a few others along the way). If you use MS Office on a Windows desktop and have a non-Windows mobile device, Office is still the best choice. The transition is now nearly seamless across multiple devices with OneDrive and Dropbox shared storage. So far, Office on iOS meets my needs for when I'm away from my laptop. I hope that the Android version is just a full-featured when finally released.
Sandworm
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Sandworm,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/17/2014 | 7:11:10 AM
SoftMaker Office HD
Try out SoftMaker Office HD for Android tablets (separately as PlanMaker HD, TextMaker HD and Presentations HD in Google Play store as free betra versions). It not only provides the complete (!) scope of features of the Windows version, but also classic menus (no bulky ribbons) - of course adapted for touchscreen use. The only apps that let you replace the notebook by a tablet, that's a real breakthrough IMO. Microsoft Office Mobile can in no way keep up with SoftMaker Office HD.
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