Mobile Editing with MS Office Web Apps and Google Drive

By Helen Bradley | Posted December 10, 2012

Thanks to tablets and laptops, many small business owners and employees have escaped the office confines to work in just about every venue imaginable: coffee shops, in hotel rooms, at the airport and even in front of the TV.

Of course if you’re not at your desktop computer, you need access to both your files and the applications to edit them. Unfortunately the editing options – on an iPad in particular – have been limited. However, Microsoft and Google recently made both Google Drive and Microsoft Office Web Apps accessible to iPad users.

These new releases open up both additional storage options and new Office applications for iPad users. In this article we’ll look at these two tools and consider how the changes will affect you and some gotchas to look out for.

Microsoft Office Web Apps

When we last wrote about mobile Office apps, the Microsoft Web Apps were a lot less attractive than they are today. At that time the Web Apps simply didn’t work in Safari on the iPad – you could view documents, but you could not edit them.


Now the Microsoft Web Apps run in Safari on the iPad, and you can create and edit files with them. This makes the Office Web Apps the tool of choice for working with documents that originated in one of the corresponding Microsoft Office applications.

And don’t just use any office app; Microsoft Web Apps understand and respect the Office formats better than any other application.

If you don't use the Office Web Apps when working on Office documents, you run the risk of destroying a document's formatting merely by opening it, changing a few words and saving it. If this happens to your own documents you'll be annoyed; if it happens to a document someone else created, you'll be very unpopular indeed.

The Microsoft Web Apps also come with online storage. You get this by signing up for a personal SkyDrive account, which gives you access to the free Web Apps and 7 GB of free storage.

When you create documents online using the Office Web Apps, your files are – by default –  saved to your cloud-based SkyDrive account. If you create files using your desktop version of Office, you can save the files to SkyDrive where you can then access them online. Then you can open and work on your files at any time using either the Web Apps or your desktop version of Office.

Microsoft encouraging customers to take advantage of SkyDrive for storing files, and SkyDrive is the default save location for all the new Office 2013 applications. If you use Office 2010, you can save files to SkyDrive via the File > Save & Send > Save to Web feature.

The biggest disadvantage of the Microsoft Web Apps is that they are available only via the Web; like any Web-based app or servicde, if you don't have an Internet connection, you can use it.

Google Drive

Now available for the iPad/iPhone as well as the desktop, Google Drive lets you access your Google Docs documents on iOS mobile devices. This is cause for some celebration, because these same features were available to Android users for two years before they became available to iPad/iPhone users.

However, the Google Drive app severely limits what you can do. You can see your files in Google Drive, but you can't do a lot with them. You can only edit documents in the app. And as for spreadsheets, you can edit them only using Google Docs in the Safari mobile browser. You can't edit PowerPoint presentations at all. It’s all very messy and a little confusing.

At least for now it's fair to say the Google products have fallen well behind the capability of comparable Microsoft products. Posts on the Google blogs promise spreadsheet editing in future, but no mention of when you will be able to create and edit a presentation on an iPad.

However, Google Drive can save a document locally – on both an iPad and iPhone. This lets you download a document from Google Drive to your mobile device. You can then view it anytime, even if you're not connected to the internet. Microsoft Web Apps doesn’t offer that capability.

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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