A new generation of free and paid cloud services offers Microsoft Windows Office suite and other fully-featured applications for tablets. These remote services highlight not only the evolution of more advanced cloud services and the increasing value of tablets for business, but also the continuing importance of Microsoft Office.
However, these services are not without problems. Let’s take a look at both the good and the bad:
In January, OnLive Desktop debuted its cloud service enabling iPad users to run a virtual version of Microsoft Windows 7, with an emphasis on Microsoft Office 2010. In March, compatibility with Android tablets was offered.
Users must download the OnLive Desktop application to the iPad or Android tablets, after which the complete versions of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel are made available for the tablets. The free basic version also includes Adobe Reader for viewing PDF files, Windows Media Player for streaming videos, and 2GB of OnLive storage.
A paid version of OnLive Desktop for $5 adds faster, priority access to OnLive, access to the storage services Dropbox and Box, plus the use of Internet Explorer, which runs Flash. OnLive also is developing more advanced versions and enterprise enhancements.
In some ways, using OnLive on tablets is similar to using Office on desktop and laptop computers. The Office software is the same, and it works with external Bluetooth keyboards as well as the tablet's on-screen keyboard.
However, after the January announcement, the OnLive Desktop service hit a stumbling block when Microsoft told OnLive it was violating license agreements. After negotiations with Microsoft, OnLive switched from using Windows 7 for its platform to Windows Server 2008 R2, and the switch has caused problems. OnLive works the same, but as ZDNet tech blogger James Kendrick writes, "the touch operation is clumsy at best." Internet Explorer performs especially poorly from a touch standpoint.
A more recent service, CloudOn, offers Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Adobe Reader, but doesn't claim to offer a Windows desktop experience like OnLive. CloudOn works with iPads, and Android compatibility is under development. Unlike OnLive, CloudOn doesn't provide file storage on its servers, but instead works via Dropbox and Box exclusively. Since user files aren’t on its own servers, scrolling can result in fuzzy text, though the service looks fine when you’re not scrolling.
A third service, Nivio, is still in beta, and I haven't used it like the other two services. Nivio aims for a more ambitious experience than OnLive or CloudOn. It supports not only the iPad and Android tablets, but also any device with HTML5-compatible browsers, such as desktops and laptops. Nivio offers access to MS Office Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, but it also offers free and paid access to a variety of apps, including Microsoft Project and different Web browsers. Nivio provides 10GB of storage, and files can be shared with other users.
Testing OnLive Desktop and CloudOn, I found the Office programs worked, but sometimes they were slow.
For businesspeople who must have the full version of Office programs or other Windows programs on their tablets, these Web services could be very useful. Although there are many Office-compatible and Windows-like programs for tablets, they don't have all the Office features, and sometimes they can’t display all the Office formatting, such as tables and charts.
The ability to use a Windows program or programs might be a lifesaver (or "business saver") for workers who have only a tablet or Apple computer with them. It makes sense for enterprises to evaluate these services, which already offer or will offer enterprise options in the future.
However, for many tablet users, buying Microsoft-compatible apps are all they will need. It’s a one-time cost (except for possible upgrades). Performance is likely to be faster with files stored directly on the device, and no Internet connection is required.
Professional computer voice dictation programs, such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking, have been around for years. They have been improving, and many disabled people use them. I think Windows has offered dictation software for years, although I've never used it.
I've always meant to try NaturallySpeaking, which can be trained and is supposed to be pretty good.
Very true Alan - it's surprising that this aspect (voice to text) has taken as long as it has to hit the ground strongly. Given that much of these are disability population driven technologies in the beta (at least many I've heard) this would seem natural.
Hi aum007 (Ashish),
Yes, it's up to the cloud services to deal with malware. It's one of the advantages of letting another conpany host applications.
I don't know the exact policies that discuss uptime reliability, but it's a very good question. People who frequently use MS Office and other Windows applications -- and must have them -- should use a laptop or perhaps consider a Windows 8 tablet when they're available.
Hi aum007 (Ashish),
Security on the iPad is rather good because so far it hasn't been targeted by malware. Also, your documents on these cloud services are stored on, duh, the cloud servers. So it's up to OnLive Desktop, CloudOn and nivio to ensure security.
Of course, the iPad also stores documents in the individual applications, so potentially these documents could be targeted by iPad malware.
Hi aum007 (Ashish),
People who use voice dictation systems on a regular basis get used to them and understand the quirks. Siri is designed for short dictation while other programs are designed for extensive dictation.
Hi aum007 (Ashish),
My iPad gets slightly warm, but it doesn't get hot and it certainly doesn't overheat. I wouldn't be surprised if the overheating issue was overblown or restricted to a relatively few iPads.
As for Siri able to accept only a few sentences at a time, this service is designed like that. It isn't designed for long dictation. So it's not a bug.
Hi aum007 (Ashish),
The iPhone and iPad do not have Flash integrated. However, when using the cloud services I discussed, none of the applications are downloaded to the iPad. The iPad displays the programs, but they are running on the cloud service's servers. So when Flash is running in Internet Exploreer on the iPad, it's running on the remote server, but the iPad is displaying it.
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