Can the iPad succeed in business without Office?

Apple's iWork suite for the tablet might not be enough for the workplace -- though other apps aim to fill the gap

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Office 2010 Web is another possibility. So far, the details about how it will work on different devices and browsers remain unknown. Much of Office 2010 Web is built around Microsoft's Silverlight runtime environment, which is available for the major desktop computing platforms (including Mac OS X). However, given Apple's anti-Flash stance regarding the iPhone and the iPad, apps that use their own runtime environments like Silverlight might not make the cut. So much for Office 2010 Web as an option.

Apple's iWork.com beta was introduced with iWork '09 for Mac over a year ago. It isn't a true cloud solution, since it's aimed at sharing iWork documents with other people through a robust Web interface. That interface allows multiple users to add comments and notes to shared documents and download a shared document in iWork, Office or PDF formats.

Earlier this month, Apple modified iWork.com to offer easier sharing of documents through social networking or other Internet services. It also updated the interface for accessing shared documents from an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, a change that should make accessing shared documents easier from Apple's mobile devices. My sense is that the iWork apps on an iPad will allow for easy sharing of documents.

While iWork.com offers a simple way to share documents, and it allows other users to view and comment on your work, it isn't a true online office suite. So it will not be an office solution in itself. For the time being, that leaves Google Docs as the primary cloud-based Office alternative -- for now.

Assuming Quickoffice, Documents to Go, and other iPhone/iPad suites retain their interoperability with Google Docs, they could create an ecosystem very similar to what Apple seems to be aiming for with iWork.com. In fact, the added collaboration options could make the combination of these types of suites and Google Docs a compelling alternative to Office and even iWork.

Overall thoughts

While it's too soon to know what Office-type suites will emerge as the best productivity options for the iPad, it seems clear that the device will, through one mechanism or another, be able to interoperate with Office and other productivity tools. That's true for individual users as well as for the broader business/enterprise environment. While iWork for the iPad may be the only option available when the iPad becomes available on April 3, other choices will become available in short order, and perhaps some may be better business choices than iWork.

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Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. His most recent book is The iPhone for Work, published by Apress. You can find more information at www.ryanfaas.com and can e-mail Ryan at ryan@ryanfaas.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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