What you wish for may turn out a bit meh: Word is free on iPad

I’m not a fan of Microsoft. It’s been years since the problems and the failings of Microsoft Word outweighed all its benefits for me but it did and it does have those benefits. Microsoft Excel is and always has been very good. PowerPoint – well, let’s not do that. No need to be rude.

So for years my only interest in whether Microsoft would bring its Office software to the iPad was a kind of business fascination. It used to be that Word was so big, nothing else breathed at all. You can be certain that there were people in Microsoft who believed that keeping Word and Excel off the iPad would kill Apple’s tablet. Be certain of that. Because they were.

And, demonstrably, they were wrong. I think they were wrong enough that it has damaged them. Not because selling Microsoft Word for iPad on day one of the iPad would’ve brought in a lot of cash and kept on doing so for all these years. But because refusing to do it meant people had to find other word processors and other spreadsheets.

Once millions of people found they really, really did not need Word, they recognised that they really, really did not need it. Microsoft may have believed people would avoid the iPad because it wouldn’t run Word and being wrong there would’ve been bad enough. But being freed of Word on iPad means free of Word anywhere.

There are other factors that have made Word stumble and I don’t know what they are. But it’s now getting on for eight years since Microsoft switched Word over to the .docx format and still people send you the old .doc ones. Nearly a decade and people have not upgraded.

In The Blank Screen book I mention discovering after a month that I hadn’t got Word on my MacBook. And a little while ago I thought I was going to write you a news story about how Microsoft Word, Excel and the other one are now available for free on iPad. But instead, I’m thinking about how tedious it would be to switch to Word again.

Let me explain one thing. You have been able to download Word and Excel and the other one for some months now and you could read documents, you just couldn’t create or edit any – unless you paid a subscription.

As of today, not so much. You still can and you still get benefits from having that but you can use Word without it. All you have to do is sign for a free Microsoft account and off you go.

I signed up and off I went. And I also linked my Dropbox account so I could get to a lot of my current and recent documents here on the iPad. It was a chore looking through them all for documents I could open and in the end I just wrote a new one.


Microsoft Word for iPad is good. It feels better than the PC and Mac ones. But it’s too late for Word to be anything other than a curiosity to me now. I wondering whether that’s the case for most people.

Go take a look for yourself: Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft The Other One are all on the iOS app store now.

Pardon? Microsoft embracing Dropbox storage

This removes another block to my using Microsoft Word for iPad. Up to now – and remember that isn’t very long, it’s not a huge time since Word and Office first came to iPad – you have had to use OneDrive for storage. That’s Microsoft’s equivalent of Dropbox and iCloud and it’s convenient if you’re an Office 365 subscriber. If you’re not, it isn’t. Not so much. Certainly not as handy as being able to save and open documents directly with Dropbox.

I’d have said Dropbox was an obvious route to go. But I’d also have said Microsoft would never do it. And the result was I never even thought about it enough to write it. So this was a surprise:

Microsoft and Dropbox are teaming up today to more closely integrate Dropbox into Office. The surprise partnership will benefit Dropbox users who use Office across desktop, mobile, and the web as Microsoft’s productivity suite will soon become the standard way to edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files stored on Dropbox storage. Office for iPad will benefit the most, with an update coming in the following weeks that will allow Dropbox users to link their account directly to the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint iPad apps.

Dropbox and Microsoft form surprise partnership for Office integration – Tom Warren, The Verge (4 November 2014)

This isn’t just that you can fiddle your way into sometimes using Dropbox, it is that you can seemingly even choose to skip OneDrive completely.

Now, if only Microsoft would sell a version without an annual subscription. Read the full piece.

The case for ditching Microsoft Office if you have a Mac

Well, I think this is part of the case. It’s a fine enough argument but maybe it’s not stating anything new: Apple’s Pages, Numbers and especially Keynote are in many ways better than Microsoft Word, Excel and especially PowerPoint. For better, I don’t just mean free or that they are installed when you buy a new Mac, I mean actually better.

That’s an easy claim to make when one’s work is not stretching the limits of what word processing, spreadsheets or presentations are doing. Except Keynote vs PowerPoint. That’s a separate argument, less because Keynote is as good as it is and more because PowerPoint isn’t.

But it’s this kind of more-complex, depends-on-your-needs argument that maybe this article from Apple Gazette lacks. But for an otherwise good laying out of the situation, take a look:

For years, Microsoft Office has been the gold standard for productivity software for business. If you took an inventory of the applications on most computers used in the corporate environment, chances are you’d find some version of Word, Powerpoint, and Excel installed on the majority of hard drives. MS Office has gotten so ubiquitous in fact, that it is installed on more than 85% of business workstations worldwide, making it as dominant in the productivity software space as Window is amongst operating systems. Fortunately, Apple has created a viable alternative to Office in the form of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, collectively known as iWork. These apps provide most of the same functionality as Microsoft’s software, but with the simplicity and ease of use that we expect from an Apple product. Here’s iWork is the better software solution for Mac users.

Why Apple’s Productivity Apps Should Replace Microsoft Office for Mac Users – (no byline), Apple Gazette (24 October 2014)

Read the full piece.

Ironically, we miscounted and missed Spreadsheet Day

Well, certainly I did. If you had a party and spent last Friday dancing on pivot tables, you are a far better spreadsheety kind of person than I am. But where it seems as if every day of the year is now a Day of Something, the fact is that you probably just thought yes, there’s bound to be a spreadsheet listing all those days.

Spreadsheets are used for lists, they are used for sorting, they are are used to create the most almighty huge cockups in history. But they are also used for numbers. There isn’t a company in the world that doesn’t have a spreadsheet. Microsoft used to run adverts for its spreadsheet with a strapline that went something like this: “Excel is used in 99% of companies. What are we doing wrong?”

Microsoft Excel is a weird one. Even though it has similar issues to Microsoft Word, it’s also clearly got different DNA. I think that it’s typical Microsoft that the company doesn’t care how one of its major apps works in a different way to another one – look at how you change size of the displayed page on screen – but it’s also a sign that the teams are different. Somehow I like that even as I don’t like it, it’s simultaneously sloppy and individual.

If you think that it’s ridiculous to project individuality and sloppiness onto a piece of software, well, there is nothing I can say to change your mind. Equally, if you’d told me 35 years ago that spreadsheets would become the power they are, it would’ve helped. I’d have invested in VisiCalc.

Sorry? Never heard of VisiCalc? You’ve seen its influence. You’ve felt its influence, both for good and bad.

On this day in 1979, a computer program called VisiCalc first shipped for the Apple II platform, marking the birth of the spreadsheet, a now-ubiquitous tool used to compile everything from grocery lists to Fortune-500 company accounts. And that’s why October 17th is Spreadsheet Day, celebrated by fans of the form.

Behold the awesome power of the spreadsheet, destroyer of worlds – Jason Karaian, Quartz (October 17, 2014)

As I say, before you celebrate by taking the rest of the day off, this 35th anniversary was last Friday. Look at the title of that piece celebrating it, though. Celebrating. With the words ‘destroyer of worlds’ in the title. It’s not as if Karaian is kidding, either. Read the full piece.