Microsoft gives Office new mobile muscle

Earlier in 2014, Microsoft (MSFT) reversed years of insular behavior by releasing Office (specifically, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel) for Apple's (AAPL) iOS mobile operating system. As impressive as that move was, it was just a baby step. You still needed a subscription to Office 365 (generally $100/year) to do anything other than read your files, and that was only on the iPad. iPhone users were stuck in read-only limbo whether they owned Office 365 or not.

All that -- and more -- is now changed.

Last week, Microsoft released new versions of the Office apps for iOS that did away, at least partly, with the need to pay a subscription fee. Here's what you get for free: iOS users (both iPhone and iPad) can read and edit documents, as well as open them from the cloud (and save them back there again). To do more than that, of course, you still need a subscription.

Specifically, you'll need Office 365 if you want to use the "track changes" features. If you're using the free app, you'll find that if a document is marked up with changes, you can't turn track changes off, nor can you accept or reject those edits.

Word has an assortment of other advanced features that you need Office 365 to take advantage of. Section breaks, like new pages and odd and even pages, for example. Want to edit text styling? Basic features are free, but selecting a custom color is behind the subscription wall. As is Word Art, image styles and advanced chart formatting.

Likewise, Excel has some additional limitations. While you can make pivot tables for free, you'll need a subscription to edit their style and formatting. And PowerPoint restricts your ability to use Presenter View (the mode that lets you view slide notes without projecting them on the main display).

Still, all in all, there's little here to complain about. Microsoft has delivered generous document editing on both the iPhone and iPad, holding out a relatively small set of less common features for the flagship Office 365 subscription program. Indeed, only the inability to manage track changes is likely to be a problem for most users of the free version.

If you subscribed to Office 365 just to be able to edit Office documents on the iPad, you can contact Microsoft support to request a partial refund.

Of course, that's not all. If you do happen to be a OneDrive subscriber, Microsoft has upped the storage ante again. Only a few months ago, the company gave a terabyte to every Office 365 user. Now, you get unlimited storage. (You might not be upgraded for a few months, but you can skip to the front of the line by signing up for the waitlist.)

Finally, Microsoft isn't locking you into OneDrive anymore. Despite the unlimited storage, if you need to open, save or share files on Dropbox, Microsoft's recent partnership with that cloud storage company makes it possible. You can now connect Dropbox to your Office apps to open and save files easily.

You can find Word, PowerPoint and Excel in the iTunes store for free, and versions for Google's (GOOG) Android versions will be coming to Google Play soon.