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Yawns may greet Microsoft Office port to iOS and Android

Mobile Office is a document viewer, basic editing, and cloud features

By , Network World
November 07, 2012 05:09 PM ET

Network World - Microsoft's most iconic application suite -- Microsoft Office -- will be moving off the PC and the Windows OS to two mobile platforms, iOS and Android, in early 2013. But will customers in the enterprise, where Office has been a PC standard for years, really care?

The new mobile version of Office will be a free viewing app on iOS and Android for Office documents, including Excel, PowerPoint and Word, according to several sources cited by The Verge in its reporting of the upcoming introduction. Users will be required to have a Microsoft online account, as they do today for Microsoft's SkyDrive and OneNote apps. Initially, only "basic editing" will be enabled, according to The Verge, through a subscription to Microsoft's Web-based office applications, Office 365.

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Office on Windows PCs and laptops is a major driver of Microsoft revenues and profits and has been for years. Corporate PCs typically are purchased with Office installed as part of their standard software load. But in just over three years, the iPhone and now iPad have made Apple the leader in mobile devices for business users. And many of these users have found workable substitutes to Office, whether via third-party apps or online services such as Google Apps.

"Overall, I can't help but be a little under-excited at this point," says Jeremy Allen, chief technology officer for Intrepidus Group, a company that specializes in helping enterprises to build secure mobile apps. "I think users that wanted this type of capability have already got it."

Office seems unlikely to add much beyond what users already have, through apps such as Apple's own iWork office suite. These "do a decent enough job at working with Microsoft Office documents," Allen says.

"The iOS and Android support are too little, too late," says James Gordon, vice president of IT for Needham Bank, a small community bank based on Needham, Mass. iPads and iPhones have become the dominant computing platform for nearly all employees. "Apple iWork and Google Docs are good alternatives for editing on mobile devices, or on a computer for that matter."

Gordon sees mobile Office on these rival platforms as creating more complexity for enterprise IT at a time when they're trying to reduce it. "While Office is an enterprise standard, distributed document workflow and editing is something [that] businesses are trying to avoid," he says. "All this will do is increase document fragmentation amongst devices, and give IT executives yet another headache as they try to prevent people from sharing documents with Microsoft as a central repository."

The bank has shifted from a distributed document model to a centralized one, based on Microsoft SharePoint 2010, with Office 2010 Web apps built in, Gordon says. "This creates a private cloud where data and documents are accessible, and editable I might add, but all data and document revisions are held centrally and not distributed," he explains.

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