Hello Microsoft Office for iPad, Bye Bye Desktop?

B. Shimmin

B. Shimmin

Summary Bullets:

  • Corporate e-mail, calendaring, social media and Web-based solutions, all work on mobile devices just as they do on the desktop. But mobile document editing is just beginning to show its true value on the road.
  • Regardless of how vendors like Microsoft decide to mobilize corporate documents, all enterprise IT managers will need to realign current mobile device management efforts with an emphasis on document access control, offline availability, synchronization and version control.

For quite a while now, documents have been the single biggest bugaboo in my quest to use my Apple iPad as a desktop replacement while on the road. Corporate e-mail, calendaring, social media, and any Web-based solution such as Salesforce.com, all work the way they do on the desktop. Actually, in many ways, they’re better – where usability and simplicity are concerned, the iPad simply offers a user experience that is far superior to the desktop. Sadly, however, when it comes to writing and editing, especially jointly editing corporate documents, those merits just don’t apply. The best word to describe it in the overall experience is unusable. There are workarounds and third-party editing and synchronization solutions available to ease the pain, but even those fail to offer anything approaching the same level of functionality available with full-fledged desktop productivity suites like Microsoft Office.

It’s a shame Microsoft doesn’t offer an iPad-capable version of its still market dominating Office suite. Or do they? Rumors of just such a product whirled about the Internet earlier this week, indicating that the company had already built a fully functional, touch-sensitive and wholly native iOS rendition Office that was just awaiting Apple iTunes store approval. Microsoft has since flatly denied these rumors (at least questioning the accuracy of the initial report from The Daily.com). The fuss is likely bustling around Microsoft’s very real forthcoming Office 15 release for Windows 8, which will feature functionality that is touch friendly and geared toward the Metro UI. But none of that really matters to me.

What matters most is the fact that this increased market pressure to equip the tablet form factor with legitimate productivity tools will end up radically altering the way IT professionals think about enterprise documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Apple may up its game and provide a more feature-rich set of iOS document capabilities. Microsoft may actually create an Office 15 release for iOS or even Android. (My guess is that the company will provide remote access to Office apps in the cloud.) IBM will likely further its efforts to mobilize Symphony. Oracle may have a change of heart and re-introduce Open Office. And Google may modernize its UI while adopting more offline capabilities.

In any and all of these eventualities, documents will at last thrive on the road. This will in turn compel companies to realign current mobile device management efforts quickly with an emphasis on mobile document management concerns such as access control, offline availability, synchronization, version control, etc. All enterprise content management solutions (ECM) products deal with such issues on the desktop quite nicely, but most collaboration suites are still extending such capabilities out to the mobile device itself. In the meantime, numerous (mostly cloud-based) file sharing/synchronization vendors including Box, Huddle, Central Desktop, GroupLogic, VMware (Project Octopus) and Dropbox are seeking to make mobile document management more tenable for both users and IT managers alike. How these products will eventually fit into established mobile device management systems and collaboration platforms remains to be seen. But at least there are options emerging capable of legitimizing full-fledged mobile productivity.

About Brad Shimmin
As Principal Analyst for Collaboration and Conferencing at Current Analysis, Brad analyzes the rapidly expanding use of collaboration software and services as a means of improving business agility, fostering employee optimization and driving business opportunities.

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