Forced off mobile Office, Box and Dropbox may lose the desktop, too

Apple, Google, and Microsoft have cut out third-party cloud storage, wiping out those services' universality

First it was Apple, then Google, and now Microsoft. The three companies providing productivity apps that work on at least a few mainstream platforms -- Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android -- have each cut out or severely crippled in their mobile apps the ability to work with documents stored anywhere but in their own cloud environments.

If Microsoft Office, Google Docs, and Apple iWork restrict mobile users to OneDrive and SharePoint, Google Drive, and iCloud, respectively, why bother with cloud storage services like Dropbox, Box, or Citrix ShareFile on the desktop? Although they may still be accessible from Windows and OS X versions of Office, Docs, and iWork, the fact that they're not accessible from mobile devices like the iPad mean their desktop compatibility has less and less value as more and more workers go mobile at least part of the time.

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You'd think that Microsoft, Google, and Apple were trying to kill Box, Dropbox, ShareFile, and other such cloud storage services by eliminating their universality. I don't think Microsoft, Google, and Apple are targeting cloud storage vendors as much as trying to force users to stay in their own ecoystems by restricting their compatibility with third-party services. But the effect could be the same.

The limits of sharing in Apple iWork, Google Drive, and Microsoft Office
Here's what the three giants are doing:

Apple's iWork suite -- Pages, Keynote, and Numbers -- saves and opens files from its iCloud service by default in iOS. Files are automatically copied locally for offline use, then resynced to iCloud when you have a connection. Even before iCloud, when you had to use iTunes sync to transfer files, iWork discouraged the use of third-party storage services: You can open and save files to Box, Dropbox, and any WebDAV-compatible storage server, but you have to import from and export to those servers using the services' WebDAV URLs -- not a straightforward process. (Dropbox charges $5 per month for the privilege, but Box offers the capability for free.) You can also export files to other apps, such as to storage services' native apps or other document editors using iOS's Open In facility.

In OS X, you can directly open and save files from and to virtual drives from any cloud server, as well as import and export files in Office formats. In Windows, you must go through a browser to use iWork; you can import and export files between Windows and iCloud.

Google's Quickoffice opens from or saves locally or to Google Drive, but if you open files from Google Drive, you're forced to use the Google Drive editor instead of the one from Quickoffice, and Google Drive can barely edit text in iOS or Android. There's no syncing for offline use. Forget about any real formatting. What's sad is that Quickoffice used to let you open and save files directly from and to a variety of cloud storage services -- until Google bought it. You can also export files to other apps, such as to storage services' native apps or other document editors using iOS's Open In facility.

In Windows and OS X, Google Drive can handle more formatting via a browser, as well as import and export files locally in Office formats.

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