Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Office on the iPad

The idea of providing access to Office from the ipad seems to be on of this week's themes with both CloudOn and OnLive garnering some interest CES this week.

I've not played with either of them so I'm not going to pontificate on how well or how badly they work but there's a couple of features worthy of note.

CloudOn uses dropbox to synchronise documents between your ipad and your main computer - this is actually very clever as (a) just about everyone on the planet has a dropbox account and (b) most people need office on a tablet for document review and a bit of highlighting/commenting - realistically no one is going to use it to write a 27 page project report.

OnLive is interesting due to its use of thin client technology - something that should have had a lot of traction, but which through a combination of licensing restrictions and the near universal availability of cheap hardware never quite made it to the mainstream.

Now what is interesting is the use of thin client technology to get decent performance on a slow network connection (such as a 3G connection) meaning that you can get access to full featured environment without all the computation overhead implied.

Both products seem to be assuming an always on network connection - which is not always the case, but certainly don't seem to support offline use. What's also interesting is that they seem to have made little or no use of the Office 365/Windows Live/Skydrive type infrastructure - perhaps due to slow response over slow links, or lack of an obvious api.

I find the focus on providing full access to office puzzling, given that tablet pc's tend not to lend themselves to document editing - if you need to edit you need a proper keyboard etc etc. If I was to develop an office client for a tablet pc, I think my first approach would be to write an app that essentially functions as a document viewer with some annotation and simple editing functions, and uses the Office 365 infrastructure with local caching and periodic writeback - allowing me to go offline or suffer network dropouts in a fairly seamless manner. In other words something to give me more or less the  functionality of google docs but generating word format files by default, and accessible to Office on my home machine ....

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