Microsoft's OneNote for iOS rings hollow

Don't be fooled by OneNote for iPad; Microsoft supports iOS and others only to encourage use of its cloud and server software

The headlines yesterday blared that Microsoft released its first Office app for the iPad, with more than a few bloggers suggesting that Microsoft has finally admitted defeat and is embracing the new operating systems -- iOS and Android -- for its flagship office productivity apps. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What Microsoft announced was a minor upgrade to its OneNote note-taking app to take advantage of the iPad's full screen. What took so long? The company has had an iPhone version of this basic note-taker, which syncs notes to Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service so that you can sync your notes to other clients like your Windows PC, for nearly a year. And it announced it would have iOS and Android clients for its Lync unified communication server application. In other words, Microsoft is making clients of its cloud and server operating systems available to iOS and, in the case of Lync, Android. This is a surprise?

Microsoft has long said it would support other operating systems as clients to these services; it helps make the investment in Office 365, Windows Live, and Windows Server more palatable. But the support is only for services that require a Microsoft back end. It remains to be seen whether the support will be second-class, as is typically the case for Microsoft clients on "alien" operating systems. Just recall how Office 365, Microsoft's cloud service, can't support mobile devices outside of email access. The cloud is the platform that should be the most mobile-savvy.

Microsoft has long shipped inferior versions of Microsoft Office for Macintosh, stripping out features available in the Windows version and making it perform poorly on the Mac. Microsoft also kept its direct support for Office 365 collaboration out of Mac Office. Ditto for SharePoint integration, which is also not available thus far on iOS, Android, or other competing platforms. The only service where Microsoft comes close to parity treatment for alien OSes is Exchange, though even there it's not quite up to parity in Mac OS X, the only platform for which Microsoft provides its own client. (Fortunately, third-party clients in Mac OS X, iOS, and Android, though not desktop Linux, provide greater compatibility.)

OneNote on iOS is not exactly a useful app. (At $15, it's expensive relative to other such apps.) It's a simple note-taker, with a bit more formatting than Apple's bundled Notes app provides. Notes syncs to Exchange, IMAP, and other servers, whereas OneNote syncs only to Microsoft's servers. I'm betting Lync on iOS and Android will also be a primitive version that won't satisfy many users. Based on Microsoft's Office for its own Windows Phone OS, Microsoft doesn't seem to believe in mobile devices for doing anything serious.

It makes perfect sense for Microsoft to encourage use of its server and cloud offerings by offering clients for non-Microsoft OSes. But don't expect Microsoft to embrace those clients or provide more than checklist support. Just as Google wants you to live in a Mountain View world and Apple wants you to live in a Cupertino world, Microsoft wants you to live in a Redmond world. They'll each support the other where they must and to the degree they must. But no more.

Anyone who thinks Microsoft has gotten iOS or Android religion will be sadly disappointed. Just ask any Mac user.

This story, "Microsoft's OneNote for iOS rings hollow," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.