I remember the time I had a PDA, 11 years ago, and how thrilled I was about editing Word and Excel documents straight from my handheld device. I lost my excitement when I realized the mobile applications didn’t offer the same features as the desktop ones. More than a decade later, our phones and tablets have more processing power than computers did back then. Today, we can surely expect them to offer similar features, no matter the device they’re running on.
Applications such as Google Drive and QuickOffice are useful when it comes to basic text editing and computing, but they don’t provide the same features and experience as the full Office suite. Not only do these often lead to compatibility issues, they also prevent you from accessing advanced features such as Excel macros, custom PowerPoint animations and automated footnotes in Word. CloudOn tries to solve the problem by running Microsoft Office on an actual computer and letting you control it from your phone or tablet. Let’s have a look at what the app has to offer and see if it can really replace a computer to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
CloudOn’s interface is essentially a file explorer that lets you browse all the files you have in your Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and SkyDrive storages. The app has a side menu that lets you create new Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents in any folder, and view the list of files you recently opened. As with any file explorer, you can cut, copy, paste, delete and rename documents and folders — changes that will be immediately reflected in the cloud and on your other devices.
CloudOn’s graphic Interface is mostly a file explorer. The app also has an option to create a new document from within a folder
Whether you create a new file or open an existing one, CloudOn will create it in the cloud and then transfer it to their remote server. Using advanced cloud computing technologies, the remote server will open the file in the appropriate Microsoft Office application — CloudOn supports Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Because the server runs Microsoft Windows and Office 2010, the interface looks extremely familiar to the one you use on your computer.
CloudOn has been designed to be touch-friendly, it therefore supports pinch to zoom gestures as well as a long press to drag and drop content, such as an image. However, in order to make it easy to use on mobile devices, the developers have simplified the tab layout and used bigger icons, so you don’t accidentally tap the wrong one. They have also gathered many options under various menus to avoid cluttering the screens with too many, even though they could have made it simpler to change the font size, which currently requires you to go through three menu levels.
Microsoft Office documents are rendered the same way as on a Windows Computer, because office is actually running on a Windows Server
Because CloudOn runs an actual version of Microsoft Office, it allows you to access advanced features such as Track Changes in Word and Pivot Tables in Excel. PowerPoint transitions are also rendered perfectly. Oddly, some basic features aren’t available or have to be used differently. For instance, there is no possibility to insert an image directly into a document, but CloudOn allows you to open an image in the file viewer, copy it and paste it back into Word. This definitely isn’t user friendly, and also requires your image to be in the cloud beforehand.
In addition to Office documents, CloudOn has built-in support for PDF documents and opens them in Adobe Reader. However, even though the computer app has options to comment and sign files, CloudOn doesn’t let you use these. Still, there is an option within the application that lets you annotate any type of file, but it’s only useful when you use CloudOn, as these comments aren’t easily retrievable from computers. Lastly, CloudOn has an option to share files via email, by either sending them as attachments, or including a link to the online source.
Even though CloudOn runs Microsoft Office on a remote server, many options have been disabled or are missing. Amongst these, Excel users will be disappointed by the lack of macro support, which can be explained by security threats these may be to the distant server. However, more basic and risk-less options are also missing from CloudOn, such as the Paragraph Styles, Footnotes and Table of Contents options in Word. Worse, Excel’s data tabs have been removed, therefore preventing advanced filtering and duplicates removal. It is unclear why these options have been removed, as they are essential elements to the tools and can’t harm the server.
Microsoft Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint running through CloudOn compared to a PC. Note the number of missing tabs
Because Office is running on a distant computer, only a limited number of fonts is provided, and incorporated fonts aren’t recognized when you open documents. However, when you save the file and open it back on a PC, the font will remain the original one, although it wouldn’t have been displayed in CloudOn. There is also no option to save a document as a PDF file or export the file to another format, including older MS Office files, which prevents you from converting a Word document to a PDF on the go and sharing it with people.
A major prerequisite to using CloudOn is an internet connection. Without it, the application will loose its link to the remote server and won’t be able to let you continue editing your file. You therefore have to be careful when you use CloudOn, as losing connectivity while working can be very damaging — in a train for example. The need for constant connectivity also results in a lack of responsiveness, as the data has to travel back and forth between the remote server and your device.
Microsoft Office has been designed to work on computers and relatively large screens. When displayed on smaller panels, the applications don’t look user-friendly and easy to navigate, even if they’ve been tweaked for mobile devices. In some cases, the window sizes aren’t adapted and lead to content being displayed very unnaturally, as shown below:
The phone screen is often too small to display content properly
A last major annoyance when using CloudOn is the keyboard. Indeed, while Office 2010 hasn’t been thought for onscreen keyboards, using it on an Android devices definitely requires you to use one. However, virtual keyboards have a tendency to take up a very high percentage of the space, leaving very little text to be seen. This issue makes writing new documents a pain, as you can barely see what you’re typing and what the overall feeling of your document is.
The onscreen keyboard takes up a lot of room on the screen
CloudOn‘s concept is admirable and a great way of offering a Microsoft Office experience that is close to the desktop version. However, it’s very hard to understand why the application is so limited when it’s a real and full version of Office running on an actual computer. Also, it’s clear the app is not adapted to be used on mobile phones, given their small screen size and the space the keyboard takes up, which makes it even less usable.
I would personally recommend CloudOn only for reviewing documents or making minor modifications and basic editing, but definitely not for creating a document from scratch. Getting actual work done quickly becomes a bother due to the limitations, but also to the applications’s lack of responsiveness. Hopefully the team behind CloudOn will work on the issues and offer a more complete experience in future versions, which is definitely possible as OnLive Desktop offers a much more comprehensive experience.