CloudOn - office documents on your iPad


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Talk about a virtualized Office for iPad – it already exists and it’s called CloudOn.

CloudOn puts Office 2007 on your Apple iPad or Android tablet. It’s not a clone or scaled down version of Microsoft Office. It’s the full Office 2007 – Word, Excel and PowerPoint plus a file viewer for PDF other file types.

It works with files from DropBox, Google Drive and Box cloud storage.

As well as all that, it’s free!

So what’s the catch? Turns out there’s a few.


What is virtualization?

What is a virtualized or remote application mean?

It means that the software is not running on the computer or device – it just looks that way.

The software is really operating on another computer, only the screen image is sent to the computer/device for you to see. Your keystrokes, mouse or touches are sent to the running computer.

If you’ve used any kind of remote desktop software (Windows Remote Dekstop, LogMeIn etc) then you’ve seen a computer operating in one place but being controlled remotely. That trick can be done for an entire computer or just a single program like Word or Excel.

Microsoft offers Office this way using ‘App-V’ so companies have servers offering Office software that appears on the screens of networked computers – sometimes computers that could not cope with the demands of Office 2007 or 2010 themselves. The organization gets to keep using older computers while also getting the benefits of a more recent Office suite.

The documents you edit are saved on a server, not the device. That can lead to privacy concerns.

The advantage of this trick is that you get more powerful software running on a small device. The overhead in disk space, processor and maybe battery life is lower than trying to run the same software on the device.

The main downside is that you need a reliable and fairly speedy connection between the local device and the hosting server.

The software might be designed for a different interface. Office uses keyboard and mouse – not touch.

Both of these issues are a stumbling block for CloudOn.


What is CloudOn?

CloudOn is virtualized Office 2007 for iPad and Android tablets. The company has servers with Office and Microsoft’s App-V to run instances of Word 2007, Excel 2007 or PowerPoint 2007.

As you can see from the Help screen on an iPad, CloudOn is running Office 2007 with service packs and patches installed.

CloudOn%20Help%20screen - CloudOn - office documents on your iPad

Microsoft did have some licencing concerns about CloudOn when it was released but all is OK now. It seems the lawyers all went into a huddle and came out with some agreement. It’s interesting to see ‘Amazon.com’ on the Help screen – that suggests Amazon Web Services is being used to host CloudOn.

Office 2010 documents can be opened with CloudOn as well as the older Office 97-2003 (.doc etc) file formats.

CloudOn works on all iPads plus Android tablets that are 8″ or larger (running Honeycomb or Ice Cream Sandwich 3.1 or higher).


Display

A separate copy of Word, Excel or PowerPoint is started for each user and the screen image sent to your iPad or Android screen.

CloudOn%20full%20screen%20with%20ribbon - CloudOn - office documents on your iPad

When you touch on the screen, that is sent to the CloudOn server for action. For example, touch a ribbon tab and that ribbon will be displayed. It acts as if Office was running on the iPad or tablet with one difference – there’s a noticeable delay between the touch and the response.

The files you edit or create are saved on standard cloud storage services – either Google Drive, Box or DropBox. That gets around the problem of uploading/downloading documents from your device, which can be slow.


Setup

CloudOn setup is straight-forward. Download the app from the App Store | Google Play.

Create or login to a free CloudOn account and also authorise access to your Google Drive, Box or DropBox accounts.

CloudOn is limited to certain countries, at June 2012 that include: US, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Iceland and Israel. Apparently the people at CloudOn are unaware of Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the entire southern hemisphere. The ‘country’ is based upon the location set in your iTunes/Google Play account, so there is a workaround available.

CloudOn seems to have English interface only with no localization.


Main Screen

The main CloudOn screen shows all the cloud services, click on one you’ve linked up and display all the files / folders in that cloud storage.

cloudon%20 %20file%20view - CloudOn - office documents on your iPad

The three buttons across the top are:



  • View mode – there are three display options for the file list
  • CloudOn – the middle button has connection status, settings, Help and tutorial links
  • New – the third ‘A’ button lets you create new Word, Excel or PowerPoint documents.

On the second row are:



  • Back, Home and Forward ‘browser’ like buttons to navigate the file view.
  • Click on the cloud storage of folder name to see sub folders.
  • Tap the page icon to see currently open documents
  • Show file/folder actions like Cut, Copy, Paste, Rename, Delete, Email, Send Link and New Folder.
  • The last icon refreshes the folder view.

CloudOn has viewers for other file formats including PDF. This might seem unnecessary since any device will have PDF viewing software. However CloudOn uses the full Adobe PDF Reader which can handle new elements like 3D which aren’t supported by the scaled-down viewers for tablets.

All connections between your device and the CloudOn servers are encrypted. The privacy of your documents on CloudOn machines depends on


Editing

To open an Office document, tap/click on it and after a short pause it’ll open in CloudOn.

CloudOn%20with%20keyboard - CloudOn - office documents on your iPad

Click on the document text and a virtual keyboard will appear. An extra row of Function and other keys have been added. Click on one and it ‘sticks’ (changes color) allowing you to emulate Office shortcuts like Ctrl+Alt+2, albeit clumsily.

The ribbon isn’t the standard one we’re used to. CloudOn has replaced the standard Office 2007 ribbons with a custom set with the smaller buttons removed. This makes it a little easier to navigate the ribbon with finger taps.

The carat symbol on far right will minimise the ribbon to give you more space to view the document (a useful steal from Office 2010). Minimise is ‘smart’; it remembers your minimize ribbon request and honors that except when your actions suggest you want to see something on it.

Select text by holding your finger down on text and moving it. This takes a little practice.

Some features are missing, most notably Insert Picture. The workaround is to open the image separately in CloudOn, choose Copy then switch to the Office document and paste it.

Documents are autosaved to their original cloud storage locations. The ‘File’ menu button takes you back to the CloudOn menu.

There’s plenty of help, including video tutorials online.


What’s the catch?

You get real Office software running on an iPad or Android tablet and for no charge … there’s gotta be a catch.

Sadly there are shortcomings in CloudOn.

Password protected documents cannot be opened … a curious omission.

More understandably, printing isn’t available.


Mismatched interface

Despite the custom ribbon, CloudOn’s versions of Office still don’t work well with a touch interface. Office 2007 is designed to work with a mouse and keyboard, trying to operate it with a fingertip is difficult. You might have more luck with a tablet pointer/stylus or an external keyboard for your device.


Slow, Sloow, Sloooooow

The interface frustrations are magnified by the slow reaction of CloudOn. Click on a ribbon tab or button and there’s a noticeable pause before anything happens … or maybe nothing happens because you didn’t really tap on the button at all.

Any action on the device has to be sent to the CloudOn server and a response, in the form of an updated screen, comes back to you. This takes a second or two each time, even with a speedy wifi connection. With a 3G connection the delay is even worse.

It’s like running Office on an underpowered computer from the turn of the century.


Online only

Obviously, CloudOn only works when you have an Internet connection. There’s no way to use it offline.

The system does handle disconnections elegantly. The document is auto saved so you should not lose any data. If you reconnect fairly quickly, you can resume editing where you left off.


Who’s Paying?

There’s currently no charge for using CloudOn and no advertising either so there appears to be no income for the company at all.

In the future “the service may have a tiered pricing structure where parts of the application are free while other aspects of the application may have a charge.”

CloudOn is clever, but not clever enough. It’s certainly worth a try out of curiosity, if nothing else. Setting up an account also gives you the option to quickly edit documents on Google Drive, Box and Dropbox which have no native way to edit Office documents directly.

We tried writing this review on CloudOn but gave up. Even typing was slow as we waited for our keystrokes to catch up. Selecting text was inaccurate and clumsy. Tapping the ribbon was like trying to work with boxing gloves on. In the end we switched to Word on a laptop, if only to finish this piece before the Olympics … and we mean Rio in 2016!

For ongoing use, CloudOn’s sluggish response, limited features and inappropriate interface make it too slow and frustrating to be a serious Office document editor for tablets.

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