Office for iPad requires Office 365 subscription to be fully useful

Three Office apps available for iPads have been fine-tuned for the touch interface

Office for the iPad is available, but it might not be what you were expecting.

Announced yesterday by Microsoft, the long awaited Office for iPad is available free, but to be truly useful customers must buy a subscription to Microsoft Office 365.

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Rather than a standalone set of apps to license and use on the machine, Office for iPad is an add-on to Microsoft’s Office 365 service, which costs $99.99 per year for a home subscription.

The package includes Word, Excel and PowerPoint, just three of seven applications that come with Office 365 home packages. All seven are available for Windows machines.

The Office for iPad apps are available free for download without an Office 365 subscription but all they allow is reading and presenting documents. To create and edit requires the subscription. “The free stuff doesn’t do a whole lot,” says Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner.

The Office 365 model allows customers to authorize Windows PCs and Macs to use Office apps, and now iPads are added to the mix.

Tying Office for iPad to Office 365 is no surprise, says Silver. Microsoft is trying to promote the service any way it can, even officially suggesting that Office 365 is the best replacement for its aging Windows XP operating system.

“It’s a big challenge to convert perpetually licensed users to a subscription service, and this is a carrot to try to get people to make that jump,” Silver says.

Competitors that make software that tries to produce Office compatible documents on iPads run into formatting and style problems when they try to read actual Office documents, and macros built into the actual apps can get dropped. These issues don’t arise with Office for iPad, he says.

The apps for iPad have been fine-tuned to work well on the iPad and its touch-centric user interface, says James Staten, an analyst with Forrester. “It reflects how the iPad user experience is supposed to be done,."

But downloading Office from the App Store needs a little more fine tuning, he says. The process requires searching for Excel, PowerPoint and Word and downloading them each separately; they’re not bundled together under the name Office.

For customers with an Office 365 account already, once the apps are downloaded each has to be activated separately, he says, another tedious task he expects will be worked out at some point.

And files that are saved are saved in Microsoft’s cloud storage service OneDrive with no option for storing them anywhere else, he says, although he suspects third parties such as Box or Dropbox will write extensions to make their storage services an option. Not all customers would opt for OneDrive if given other options, he says.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

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