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Solving the problem with Office for iPad PDFs

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Office for iPad is that it exists at all. Microsoft's (MSFT) traditionally insular ecosystem strategy depended on keeping Office off most competing and disruptive platforms. Thanks to Microsoft's new CEO Satya Nadella, though, Redmond has put Apple's (AAPL) iPad on an almost-even footing with Windows tablets for business and productivity.

The latest update to Office for iPad delivers something a lot of people were asking for: the ability to save documents as PDF files. But the implementation is clumsy, and it's sure to frustrate many users.

Here's the problem. Even finding the save-as-PDF feature is infuriating, and once you do locate it -- somewhere you'd never expect it to be -- you discover that the only way to create PDFs is by attaching them to an email. You can't simply save a PDF directly to a cloud service like Dropbox or Microsoft's own OneDrive.

Instead, you need to tap the Sharing icon at the top right of the screen and choose Email as Attachment, Send PDF. Then address the email and it arrives as an attachment to whomever you send it. If you need it, you have to email it to yourself and deal with saving the attachment and discarding the email.

Thankfully, a clever workaround is available. PC World's Alex Campbell has shared a great fix that uploads PDFs from Office for iPad to the cloud service of your choice without having to deal with email attachments at all. It just takes is a simple "recipe" in the popular If This Then That (IFTTT) service, which lets you perform sophisticated tasks automatically using your favorite websites and services.

Making it work is pretty simple, actually. If you don't already have an IFTTT account, get one. As the service's name implies, IFTTT relies on recipes built from very basic "If this, then that" formulas. To create your PDF delivery system, the "this" should be the Email channel. Choose the option called Send IFTTT an email tagged, and make the tag something simple and memorable, like #pdf. This will intercept emails sent from Office for iPad to the IFTTT service that include #pdf somewhere in the subject line.

The "that" should be the cloud service of your choice (which might be Dropbox, Box, Google Drive or, most appropriately, OneDrive). Choose the option called Upload file from URL, and specify the folder path where you want the attachments to appear in your cloud service. For simplicity, you might just drop all your PDFs in a folder called PDF. Then create the action.

From now on, whenever you share a document using the PDF option in Office for iPad, address the email to trigger@ifttt.com and add #pdf to the subject line. Moments after you send the email, the attachment will appear automatically in the cloud, synced to all your PCs and devices and ready to be used however you see fit.

And here's a free bonus: This recipe works on any email file attachments, not just iPad for Office. That opens up a world of possibilities.

Photo courtesy of IFTTT.

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