Microsoft Office for iPad – It’s About Freaking Time

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Yep, it’s finally here. After lots of promises and years of delay, Microsoft has finally released a true Office for iPad suite (no more emulations from third parties). Maybe this move is to counter Apple’s semi-recent decision to bundle its iLife apps (Pages, Numbers  and Keynote) for free. Maybe they just finally got around to it. Who knows? But here it is, so I figured I should check out exactly what Microsoft is offering to Apple users.

As expected, Office for iPad is a collection of three apps  – Word, Excel and Powerpoint, of course, in addition to the previously available Microsoft – iPad offerings.  The apps are free, but there is a catch – to do more than view (in other words, to create or edit) docs, you will need the Office 365 subscription, ranging from $6.99 to $9.99 per month for Home Personal or Premium, or one of their business subscriptions. Then, the tablet will have access to the same material available through Office Online, including use of OneDrive for storage.  With an Office 365 subscription, you get five tablet set ups and five desktop setups of the suite.

The apps for iPad are more robust than one might think – they do look like their desktop counterparts to a degree. Of course, with the emphasis on touch interface. Most common features are included in the iPad version, while more arcane features remain desktop only (for example, you can footnote on the iPad, but forget about Mailings and Reference tools). Manipulating text follows the usual iOS protocols for selecting, cutting, pasting, etc. You can track changes, co-author docs, and spell check (although there is no grammar checking or thesaurus tools). There are 16 templates in Excel for iPad, which should cover most of the scenarios you would need on a mobile basis.

For free, you can read, view and present. For a monthly fee, you can create and edit. I would imagine the cost would be justified in the business setting if you are a heavily Office-oriented firm. You can get a 30 day free trial of Office 365, so you can assess whether the new mobile / desktop setup would work well for you. Make sure you are running iOS 7 or later. Oh, and they have versions for your iPhone and Android device as well.

Check out the promo video and screenshots below. The apps are nothing if not beautiful to look at.

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CloudOn 2.5 Getting Closer to the Full Office on the iPad

Back in January, Microsoft Office users rejoiced with the introduction of CloudOn, an iPad app that ran a virtualized Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel & PowerPoint) on the iconic tablet. Not content to sit on their laurels, CloudOn’s developers have added new features to the app that makes it more appealing and useful. CloudOn 2.5 adds the ability to annotate and track to its iOS app. But don’t worry,  Android support is coming. In addition to the previously available tools for managing, creating and editing files, you will be able to add shapes and lines in Word with your fingers, type a note and preserve those markups in the files themselves. You can save to Dropbox, Box, or  Google Drive accounts. The new CloudOn FileSpace feature reveals a real-time stream of data on changes to your documents so that you can effectively track changes across platforms. The ribbon toolbar is optimized for touch gestures for editing and spell checking. While it is running a version that is akin to 2010, rather than 2013, it is more than sufficient to give that virtualized Office experience. While it’s a bummer that it isn’t yet retina supported, it is a great tool for those longing for Office on their iPad or Android-powered device. It also bears noting that, through partnerships with both Microsoft and Adobe, CloudOn lets you open and view a variety of file types with the built-in Adobe Reader and File Viewer, including PDF, JPG, PNG, GIF, etc. And its all for free.


Slapping Microsoft Word Into Shape

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Microsoft Word is a necessary evil. I still miss WordPerfect but have been forced by my corporate overlords to adopt Word. Just because I have to use it, though, doesn’t mean I have to like it.

As MS has updated Word, and the Office suite generally, they have added more and more geegaws to the interface, making it look more and more like a victim of Orange County Choppers. TUAW to the rescue here with a bunch of great tweaks for stripping it back down to its elements. I already employ many of these tweaks, such as turning off tool bars and using full screen mode. But did you know you could disable the status bar, set your default folder for new files to DropBox, and even set your visual preference to return your view to the old DOS blue-screen-white-text? Now there’s a throwback for you!

Thanks TUAW for the great Word Improvement tips!

Grammarly: Your Robotic Writing Assistant

There are those out there claiming that good grammar is outdated. And then there are those out there looking to turn a buck helping you fix your grammar and proofread your opus (opuses? opera?). Should you choose to pay attention to your grammar, you can turn to the online service Grammarly to afford you that second set of eyes. Grammarly doesn’t beat around the bush: the site proudly proclaims it to be “The World’s Most Accurate Grammar Checker.” Grammarly offers both online checking and integration with your local software – Microsoft Office Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc.  Grammarly checks for spelling, punctuation, and simple grammar checking, as well as highlights potential plagiaristic moments in your missive.  Grammatical errors are indicated in red and clicking on the error will reveal a pop up card explaining the wrong and the “write” of it. You can choose to “see less” of the explanation in the cards, and there are up and down buttons to give feedback on the feedback that is given to you in the card.

Word from reviewers is that Grammarly is near the top of the class when it comes to online grammar support, but that it falls a bit short as a local add-on, with much better options out there in WhiteSmoke or Writer’s Workbench. The other downside for me was a monthly subscription cost. For on-line, I would prefer a one-off option for the occasional support, rather than be required to pump in $20 or so bucks a month for a slightly better editor and checker than my word processor provides.

That said, those who make their living writing, or students whose grades depend upon quality written product, might find the money well spent. It’s always nice to have another tool to fit in you writer’s tool belt.

Save Me From A Corrupt File!

C’mon, you KNOW it has happened to you. Work for hours on an important document and then BLAM! run right into a corrupt file issue. You can’t save it, you can’t open it. It’s virtually worthless and you have to do the entire thing over again, right? Wrong.

Enter Corrupt Office Text Extractor (link here) – a free web tool that will pull all the text out of your corrupt Office 2007 or later file so you at least can still access and use the meat of your document. Simply upload your document into the site, run it through the process and get your text back. Beware – the site is loaded with cautionary language as it is not yet certified as secure, so keep you sensitive documents to yourself on this one. The developer, Paul Pruitt, kindly points the secure document owner to various freeware available for download that essentially accomplishes the same task locally.

While there is very effective paid software out there to manage this task, Corrupt Office Text Extractor may still have a place in your tool belt – the place reserved for immediate, free fix of a non-sensitive corrupt file. Thanks Paul!

Microsoft Office Web Apps – Now Live & Free

Have you been waiting for Microsoft to finally put its Office applications into the cloud? Have you been waiting for Microsoft to put a “free” tag on those apps? Well, your time has come. Office Web Apps, MS’ free online version of its Office suite, is now live on SkyDrive and available for U.S., U.K., Ireland and Canada-based users.

With the simple creation of a Windows Live account, you can start playing with the new tools. You will find browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and even OneNote that mimic much of the look and function of their desktop sibilings. Silverlight improves some of the experience (such as uploading multiple docs at the same time), but is unnecessary. All modern browsers will work with the tools. It’s not the desktop experience, for sure. But it meets Google Docs head on. You can upload (drag and drop!), collaborate with others, create within the web environment, print right from the browser and read docs on your smart phone. And, if you have Office 2010 installed locally (releasing next week), the web counterparts really sparkle with a seamless desktop / web experience. With 25GB of free storage on SkyDrive, this combination of features is nothing to sneeze at.

The Windows team is also promising lots of Office features will be integrated into Hotmail, so stay tuned to that.

Check out The Window Blog (link here) for more information and screenshots. All Hail the Cloud!

WordPerfect v. Word

We writers, particularly legal writers, find ourselves frequently utilizing word processing software for a wide variety of purposes. Other than my legal database software, my word processor is my busiest tool. The features and functions afforded by such software have increased exponentially in complexity and breadth, now crossing over with graphics, database and publishing programs. For most purposes, Corel’s WordPerfect and Microsoft’s Word are the two leading word processing software choices. After an introduction to word processing in college with WordStar (anyone remember that one?), I was a hardcore WordPerfect user for years, employing DOS versions through law school, in my first legal position in a firm and for the first several years of in-house practice. Then my IT department made the switch to Word. I was hostile to the change foisted upon me and exceedingly reluctant to use Word, which I deemed to be an inferior product at the time.  I mean, who can effectively and readily control the look and feel of one’s document without the ability to reveal codes?

Eventually, I have come to appreciate Word as a facile and effective word processing program that integrates well with the other Microsoft Office products in the Microsoft Windows environment. I recently had an opportunity to try out Word 2007 and was thrilled with the integrated tablet pen functions and lots of other neat features. But, is it really superior to WordPerfect or is its apparent dominance another effect of Microsoft’s stranglehold on the business consumer market?

Apparently I am not the only one to ponder this debate. A good explanation of the conceptual difference between the two programs is found at the Microsoft Word MVP site, as follows:

WordPerfect considers a document to be a “type stream.” If you picture WordPerfect sitting on the end of the printer cable, sending characters one-by-one, and every now and again inserting a COMMAND to change what the printer is doing, you’ll get the idea. For example, WP sends the commands for “Arial” font and “bold”. It then expects the printer to print every character that way until it tells the printer to do something else.

Word, on the other hand, considers a document to be a “container.” Within this container are more containers and, within them, still more. Into each of these containers, Word inserts objects. The objects can be bits of text, or bits of pictures, or complete files created by other applications.

Freedman Consulting, in its Law Practice Management Blog, contends that the war is over and Word has won, even if it may be in some respects the lesser of the two programs in transparency, power and maneuverability.  See, for example, this explanation of why reviewers believe WordPerfect to be the easier program to use.  Freedman attributes Word’s victory in part to the needs of clients who more often than not utilize Word rather than WordPerfect. Additionally, Freedman cites the benefits of the other software in the Microsoft Office suite and Word’s superior integration over WordPerfect with Access, Outlook and Excel. Some commentators also feel that the WordPerfect to Word converters are, well, less than “perfect.” Thus, if you find yourself constrained to use Word, but long for the good old days, here are some suggestions from John McGhie at the Microsoft Word MVP site:

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    1. Forget reveal codes. They are not useful in Word. If you need them, click the “What’s This?” button on the Help menu (or press Shift+F1), and then click the text you are interested in. That will show you most of the current properties. Also see: Is there life after “Reveal Codes”?
    2. What you see on the screen is what you are going to get. If the text on the screen does not appear bold, then it does not have the bold property, regardless of what you feel it “should” have 🙂
    3. As far as humanly possible, avoid direct formatting in Word. Word is designed to run on Styles. Learn to use them. It is so much easier to get one style correctly formatted than it is to get 174 paragraphs all looking the same. Ignore the format painter: it’s a problem looking for a place to happen.
    4. Do not accept Word the way it came out of the box. Customise the hell out of it. That’s why it was designed that way. Start with the toolbars: piss off all the rubbish that comes on the standard toolbars and add your favourite styles and tools in their place, so everything you need is only one click away. Get into macros as soon as you can: there’s no point in fiddling around typing things you can simply assign to a mouse-click.
    5. Learn to use a different template for each document type. That way, you can make the template automatically set up all your styles, margins, spelling languages, etc., for the particular type of document you are making. Avoid basing documents on the “Normal” template. You can never control the contents of the Normal template, on your computer or on anyone else’s. Documents attached to the Normal template will reformat themselves each time they are opened or passed to a different machine.
    6. Don’t be tempted to customise Word to work like WP. You can do it, but Word will fight you every inch of the way if you do, and you will have a very frustrating time of it.
    7. Don’t expect to read anything useful about Word in a paper manual. All the information is in the Help. Suffer that damned paper-clip and learn to use it: it’s the fastest way to find anything. That’s because there’s too much information and it updates too frequently to be published on paper. I have found that anyone who has published a paper book about Word 97, for example, either hasn’t understood it, or has done it at such a trivial level that it is not useful. Since I write books for a living, I can tell you that it is just not possible to describe Word in less than 1,800 pages, and it’s just not possible to economically keep a book like that up-to-date.
    8. Resign yourself to the fact that it will take six months of daily use to really tame the brute, but once you have, you won’t go back.

Now that you mention it, John, the Paper Clip is godforsaken irritating.  If Microsoft could only come up with an “Assistant” that looked like George Clooney, Word’s victory would be complete.

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