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.

Use an email client instead of the web

I’m prompted to say this to you because of an short article about Gmail whose writer says:

I’ve been using Gmail since 2003 exclusively. It’s awesome. And when I learned the keyboard shortcuts in 2006, it vastly increased my email productivity. I highly recommend taking the time to learn them.

Yesterday I discovered the biggest boon to my email productivity since shortcuts: Gmail Offline, a Google Chrome app that does just what it says: Allows you to read and write email (in the browser) when you’re not connected to the Internet. But that’s not the key point. I haven’t even been offline since I started using it.

Do Your Email Faster by Getting Offline – Ev Williams, Medium (13 May 2014)

He sounds so surprised. Here’s the thing. If you get to your email by firing up Firefox or Safari or Chrome or (twitch) Internet Explorer, then logging on to a site like ( as was) or, you’re reading your email online. (* See that asterisk? It’s important. But shush, I didn’t say it yet.) You’re reading your email online. That’s nice. You can do that from anywhere, absolutely anywhere that you can get an internet connection and it’s fine.

So long as you have an internet connection. You are bollixed if you don’t. And so long as your email provider remains your email provider. A friend recently moved from one broadband supplier to another and in the process was told she would lose her old email address. You know that’s a problem: if there are any statistics into why so many people remain subscribers to AOL then they probably conclude that it is solely to keep that familiar address. Same with Hotmail. You keep putting up with the crap because you’ve given everybody that bleedin’ email address and there is nothing you can do about it.

Until forced. Then you change to something good and that may well be Gmail but this is another story.

Back to the online versus offline stuff.

If you work in an office and your PC or Mac there includes Microsoft Outlook, you’re getting your email offline. It might be stored on your company’s network servers but it’s not sitting out there on the internet waiting for you to login or for Microsoft to switch you off.

Back when this used to be an either/or kind of situation, there were advantages and disadvantages to online and offline email. I have always used offline, though, and I’ve done so because it means I have all the email right here. It’s mine and on my Mac and on my backups, you can’t take it away from me without theft and some serious effort.

It’s called using an email client: Apple’s OS X Mail is a client, Microsoft Outlook is a client and email is served to them. Your computer goes off to get email for you and brings it back, you don’t have to keep going to a website or leaving a website tab open.

Also back in the day, leaving that connection open cost you money. I knew someone who stay online while slowly peck-typing her emails, not appreciating that it was only when she hit Send that she needed to be online. I did tell her that and her internet connection did keep dropping the line because, as far as it was concerned, she wasn’t using it for a very long time. But I have no doubt that she persisted until whenever she got broadband.

These days we can have both worlds. I have all the advantages of having my emails on my Mac but they are also on my iPad and iPhone, moreover they are also also on any computer I chose to login to. Where you might have to go to to get your email, I can elect to go to to get mine. I did this most recently at a secure mental health establishment where I wasn’t allowed my iPad or iPhone but could use their office computers.

So that’s all good, then. You can get your email online or offline, whatever what you like, and so long as your supplier doesn’t stiff you, you’re so good to go that you never even realise there’s any choice to be made. Until you do what this Williams writer did and move to an email client, then you find out the other big benefit. The benefit so big that it surprised him and it now surprises me that not everybody knew this:

The reason Gmail Offline makes you faster at your email is because:

It’s freaking fast. Gmail proper is fast, most of the time. But sometimes it takes a second or two (or three or…) to archive or reload your inbox. When you’re plowing through email — especially with shortcuts — that seems like an eternity. Gmail Offline removes those waits, pretty much completely.

Yep. That would do it.

If you’re on Gmail, Williams is enthusing about Gmail Offline, and here’s where we:

*throw in an asterisk.

Purely and entirely to be awkward and not because Google wants to take over the world, Gmail Offline uses your web browser. It has to be Google Chrome with extensions so it’s really turning your browser into something that uses local storage like a regular document-creating application. But it’s your browser. So all that stuff I said about how you can tell you’re reading email online because you use a web browser, not so much.

But offline is faster? Very much.

The wild and strange world of using Mac Keynote on a PC

20140721-221214-79934747.jpgI knew you could do this or I wouldn’t have even tried, but this afternoon I wrote and presented a talk using my favourite presentation software, Keynote, and I did it on a PC. Keynote is on Macs and iOS only, but if you go to on any computer, you can use it as if it ran on your machine.

Same with Pages the word processor and Numbers, the spreadsheet. They’re all on, along with Apple Mail, Calendar, Contacts.

But it’s one thing knowing this, it’s another doing it. And this ability is just crazy good. If it weren’t that the keyboard was clunky plastic, I could’ve been on a Mac. Now, I’m a Mac user so naturally I prefer this to PCs but it was the flawless ability to do what I would’ve expected to do, what I am used to doing, that made this wild.

Keynote is just a very good presentation application, pretty much infinitely better than PowerPoint. I had the choice of using PowerPoint locally, as in actually on that PC’s hard drive yet I chose to run Keynote over iCloud. This was in all ways stupid: what if the internet connection had failed?

But it was also in all ways sensible. I was twice moved to different lecture rooms and because I was doing this on, I just logged back on to there in each room and carried on exactly where I was.

And though the college I was at had PowerPoint, the first time I ran it, it came up with lots of messages that – read at great speed and in a rush to click my way through – gave me the impression that this was a trial version of PowerPoint. Not the full one. So it would have all the features but it would gripe at you a lot.

I’ve seen Microsoft Griping. I saw a fella us a PC that give a presentation so gorgeous that I was willing change my mind about Macs vs PCs – until he turned to face the audience. The instant his back was to the screen, there was a Windows Genuine Advantage error message. Basically, the internet connection had gone down and even though he wasn’t using the internet, Windows chose that moment to check something online and because it failed, said so in big letters.

Very amusingly, the connection must’ve come back because just as he turned around to change the slide, the error vanished.

I don’t care whether you like or dislike Apple, you know they wouldn’t interrupt your presentation with a system error.

So my choice was between a trial version of PowerPoint that would gripe and anyway was PowerPoint, or Keynote which was online at and so at risk of losing the internet connection.

I chose Keynote.

And I tell you, I always will. Right now I tend to produce my presentations on Keynote for Mac or iOS and at the very end convert them to PowerPoint. I then arrive wherever I’m going with a USB thumb drive containing one Keynote version and two PowerPoints (the old and the new formats). I also have the same files on Dropbox. And I often bring my MacBook with all versions on too.

I think I still will. But I’ll also make sure I’ve got a copy on

Keynote is a pleasure to use on Macs and iOS, I had thought it was a cleverness that you could run it on PCs via but it’s more than that. It’s a pleasure to use it even there. And to be able to present directly from it, that’s huge to me.

Try Keynote on yourself. If you have an iPad or an iPhone – it’s not wonderful on an iPhone but it works – then get the iOS app here. And if you’re on a Mac, it’s waiting for you at the end of this link.

It’s not enough to have all your work with you

It has to really be with you and you need to know what it all is.

Follow. Earlier this week, I did a trio of writing workshops at a university and I think it went great: I had a tremendous time. (Quick aside? It was all for school kids who were being shown the university and I learnt afterwards that as well as the main schools I’d been told were coming, there was a small contingent from my own old one. I found out far too late to ask who was from there so it is a little bit freaky. I have this week taught Year 10 kids from my own school and I don’t know who they were.)

After all that was done, though, there was a presentation and if there had been enough time, each of us writers working there that day could’ve performed a piece of their work. I usually write books and scripts, things far too long to rattle off in a couple of minutes. But while Cat Weatherill told a story and Alan Kurly McGeachie recited a poem with verve and gusto, I searched my iPad.

I’d been asked during the presentation if I had something I could read and I did say yes.


There was no internet reception in that hall.

So even though I could see some items in Evernote, I couldn’t open them. (You can choose to make a notebook and all its contents be permanently available on your device, but you have to be connected to the internet to say you want to do that.) Pages and iCloud did better but I couldn’t easily see what I’d got because documents are shown as big icons which is great because you see the shape of page 1 and can readily know what each one is. But it’s rubbish when you’re scrolling through, searching for something short.

I found the start of a novel in Pages. It’s a bit violent but I reckoned it worked. I found a short story called Elite Death Squirrels which fit a lot of the things I’d been talking about with the kids all day.

But both were pretty long, even the excerpt from the novel was just too long. So with time pressing, I didn’t get to perform.

I would’ve liked to. But what narks me is that I wasn’t able to provide what was asked of me. It wasn’t a big deal from their point of view and it came up unexpectedly, yet that is a big deal from my point of view and I imagine I’m always ready. When you’ve done a few workshops you end up having this little mental toolbox of things you can reach for. Mine wasn’t full enough.

What narks me even more, though, is that I did have something the perfect length and which would also have spoken to the points I was making during the day. It’s a two-hander script I wrote during a young writers’ session and I rather like it.

I know I wrote it, I remember the lines, I’m wondering if I even kept it. Because it wasn’t on my iPad and even now, sitting here with full internet, I can’t track it down. That is unusual and disturbing.

But the take away from all this is that you need to keep your work with you and make sure you can actually get to t. Plus, know what you’ve got before you just say ‘yes’ to anyone who asks.



Want: Transporter drive

I’m taking my time over this because I want to get a storage system that suits me best and that suits me enough that I can forget about it for years and years and years. Right now, I suspect that it’s going to involve a Transporter and I am so taken with this product range that I want you to know about them too.

Oh, does that not sound like a sales pitch? Seriously, I won’t get any money for you buying one – wait, hang on, I can change that just a teeny bit. If you bought a Transporter drive through these links to Amazon UK or Amazon US, I would be quids in. Or pennies, really. But pennies-in isn’t a phrase. And anyway, I think I’m more likely to directly profit from this if someone who really likes me sees this sometime nearer Christmas.


Transporter by a firm called Connected Data (here’s the official site) is like having your own personal cloud. Just as an aside, isn’t that still a deeply strange kind of sentence? But it’s true. Where I currently use Backblaze to backup our Macs to their servers somewhere in the world and I currently use the hell out of Dropbox for getting me quick access to my files wherever I am, I could use a Transporter. It would work exactly the same. But instead of my documents being on Backblaze’s servers or on Dropbox’s servers, they’d be on mine.

And unlike Backblaze and Dropbox and all there rest, there wouldn’t be any monthly charges. Buy a Transporter and you’re done.

It’s not so much the lack of ongoing fees that I think is appealing, it’s the convenience and maybe the security of it all. Intellectually I do like that it’s got to be more secure having your own cloud than using everyone else’s but in practice I’m probably not that fussed. Since I do have our Macs backed up online all the time, the problem I really want to solve is that I have a lot of data. A lot. I’m writing to you from a 3Tb iMac and it is near-as-dammit full.

Computers slow down dramatically when the drive is full and I am seeing that even with this fairly new iMac. So the idea of having a Transporter in the loft or at my sister-in-law’s house and keeping all my films and music on there, that appeals. It appeals so much that I’m not sure why I haven’t already done it or at least tried out one Transporter.

I think you should try one. In the UK, you can buy a 1Tb Transporter today for £188.12 and in the States it’s $259.99. Spend that, plug it in somewhere, off you go to the races and back again.

I suspect my hesitation is that I would need a lot more than 1Tb to make this worthwhile. Connected Data sells a 2Tb version and it also sells a no-terabyte version: an empty Transporter shell into which you can add a drive of any capacity you can find, if it’ll fit. So the odds are that I could fit a 3Tb drive fairly easily. I’m just not sure that 3Tb is enough either.

Then the same firm does a device called a Transporter Sync which gives you all of this connected cloud lark but I believe does it to any drive you can connected to it by USB. I’m not very clear on the differences, but I’m pondering.

There. This started out sounding like a sales pitch and now it’s more of a sales plea: if you use one of these things, what do you think of it? And how useful is the 1Tb storage?