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Alternative tablet applications for Microsoft Office users

There are plenty of tablet applications that are good alternatives for Microsoft Office users, but ditching Office completely is easier said than done.

The majority of businesses use Office suite

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to create mountains of documents, but many employees are working from tablets, and the suite isn't readily available on all devices. Plus, maintaining congruity between a non-Office app on a tablet and Office on a desktop is difficult. Workers who use the more advanced features of Office file formats, such as version tracking, tables and VBA macros will find that those features don't convert 100% in files shared back and forth between Office and alternative tablet applications. Moving off the Office suite entirely in favor of more tablet-friendly alternatives is certainly one option, but it's not easy to do.

With that in mind, here's a breakdown of some available tablet applications for Microsoft Office users.

Apple iWork

Apple's iWork suite consists of three applications. Pages is a word processor, Numbers is for spreadsheets and Keynote lets workers create presentations. The apps are available on Mac OS X and iOS, and the iOS version is tuned for touch. The suite can also open and save to Microsoft formats, but full compatibility is elusive. Apple iWork is tightly integrated with iCloud storage services, giving iPad users a place to share and collaborate on documents with others, including users working from Windows PCs. Although iWork does not run on Android or Windows, a Web version of iWork applications is currently in beta, which offers a hardware and OS-neutral option.

Google

Last year Google acquired Quickoffice, a popular alternative for Microsoft Office users on Android tablets and iPads. Google bundles a Quickoffice basic license with a paid subscription to Google Apps for Business. Quickoffice works with various cloud storage options including Citrix ShareFile, Google Drive and Dropbox. To use the functions of Quickoffice offline, users must copy the file they want to work on from the cloud to local storage.

Other Google applications, such as Google Docs, Sheets and Slides, can be used to edit and save documents in Microsoft Office formats. Formatting is often unpreserved, however, in the conversion from a Google app to Office. Google apps work with Google Drive cloud storage, and employees can access files offline by using the Google Chrome browser or Chrome OS.

DataViz Documents To Go

Documents To Go (DTG) is similar to Quickoffice in features and is available on many different devices, including iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows, Mac and even Symbian S60. DTG can read and write to Office formats, and one of the selling points is that formatting is maintained when the user saves his files in Office formats, according to DataViz.

Microsoft

Microsoft makes Office available on some mobile platforms, but its features and functions vary significantly.

The Office Mobile for Office 365 app, for example, offers Word, Excel and PowerPoint on iOS, but it does not have support for the iPad. It also requires a subscription to Office 365 and is hampered by limited editing capabilities.

Office Mobile does not support Android devices natively or via the Office 365 Web client. The Office 365 Web client only supports Windows 7, Windows 8 and Mac OS X 10.6 and above.

Microsoft's cloud storage service, SkyDrive, lets tablet users create documents and perform simple online edits in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote files from a browser. The SkyDrive Web app supports Safari, Chrome and Firefox, so it's more accessible than Office Mobile is for iPad and Android users, but the experience is not ideal on a multi-touch device.

Windows RT tablets include Office 2013 Home and Student Edition, but it is a violation of licensing rules to use these versions for commercial purposes. To use Office on an RT tablet for work, users need Software Assurance (SA) coverage on a full Office Professional license, which many users have on their work PCs. If users don't have SA rights, they need to purchase a license for Office that allows commercial use.

Office 2013 RT is compatible with x86 file formats, but it doesn't have features such as Excel Data Model, the ability to load macros or add-ins that require ActiveX controls, or the ability to embed audio in PowerPoint presentations. There is some integration with the multi-touch hardware of RT tablets, but it pales in comparison to Quickoffice and iWork support on the competing platforms.

Office 2013 comes with Touch Mode which changes the display spacing of menus, commands and icons. The tablet application can be confusing, because it runs in the OS's Desktop mode, which favors the use of a mouse and keyboard, as opposed to running in the touch-friendly mode of Windows RT.

Windows 8 tablets run the same version of Office, as do conventional Windows desktop PCs. Unlike RT, users have access to all the features of Office 2013 that the license allows, but Office is still hard to use on Windows 8 tablets because it's not built for touch.

This was first published in July 2013

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