How to use the real Microsoft Office on your iPad

No matter how enamored you are of your iPad, you have to acknowledge that it can't run the most pervasive, popular and mission critical business software on the planet: Microsoft Office. Yes, there are workarounds. Apple offers some lightweight office apps custom designed for the iPad, and there are other third-party word processors and spreadsheets around, like Documents to Goand QuickOffice. But no matter how many substitutes you try, there's nothing quite like Office. Now, you can actually run the real deal on your iPad.

CloudOn brings Office 2010 to your iPad. You get Word, Excel and PowerPoint, in their entirety, thanks to a bit of server-side magic. You're not installing the Office apps on your iPad; instead, the apps are run from a remote server and rendered in a virtualized PC on your iPad. That has advantages and disadvantages.

First, the good stuff: This truly is the Office you know. All the ribbon tabs and myriad commands are there. You can open all of your documents, read and edit them, and save them without compromise. Nothing is rearranged, abbreviated, digested or changed. If you know Office, you know CloudOn.

Of course, that also means you get the current version of Office, designed for a desktop monitor, mouse and keyboard, on the iPad's touch screen. It's not terrible, but it certainly isn't an optimized experience, either. It would be nice if Office knew you were poking at it with your fingers, but I suspect that sort of thing will probably have to wait for whatever version of Office comes out with Windows 8.

And there are oddities that result from the fact that Office is being delivered to you from a remote server. Obviously, you have to have an Internet connection -- if you're offline, so is CloudOn. Worse, I encountered a Windows dialog box that stopped me cold, and I was unable to go on until I contacted CloudOn's tech support.

Those issues aside, CloudOn is a welcome tool for mobile workers. The app relies entirely on Dropbox to open and save documents. (You must link your Dropbox account to CloudOn, or get a new account just to get started.) If you've ever wanted to work on a Word doc while you were riding the train, but lamented the lack of a proper word processor, here's your solution.

Dave Johnson was employed by Microsoft Corporation at the time this article was written.