Testing iOS Office Apps to Edit Microsoft Word Documents

This article doesn't recommend any specific applications; that will come later. We're at an early stage of evaluating software to edit our documents, and as expected, it's awesome and crappy at the same time. It's awesome because these new word processors are beautiful. Any of them looks like a work of art.

What sucks is the degree of compatibility with Word. I'd already experienced it with moving documents from MS Word on Windows to MS Word on a Mac, years ago, so my hopes were low. The apps we'll be testing include: MS Word for iPad, Google Docs, Zoho Writer, Quickoffice (Google's Office compatible app), Documents Pro, CloudOn, Polaris Office, Documents to Go, and probably more.

Here's how you test these things.

First, you make a new document in Word that contains all the features your documents use, and then some. I've attached a sample which I'm putting together for our tests.

Second, you upload fresh copies of this into your test environment (which has all the relevant apps installed). If you're an Apple iLuddite like me, you are wondering how this is done. What you do is install the following OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and SugarSync. Then sign up an account with each. More on installing software later.

Please note - this is a pain in the butt, because not all applications support all cloud storage services. I'll probably get a support matrix up here once I figure it out, but the general rule is:

MS Word -> MS OneDrive
Google Docs -> Google Drive
Zoho Writer -> Dropbox
Documents Pro -> iCloud... and I don't know how to save into iCloud yet.

Where there's a will, there's a way, and somehow, we'll get all the documents to their related applications. (This stuff makes transferring files from 5.25" to 3.5" diskettes look easy.)

Third, duplicate each file, and rename with the name of the application that will test it.

Fourth, open up the document in the iOS app, and see what formatting is broken. Then save it back out. Then, look at the file in MS Word, again, to see what formatting has been lost on the return trip. This last step is critical because if editing documents damages them, you'll be cursing the application.

Note that Google Docs has their own format and you can convert the document when you upload the files to Drive.

Record the results into a spreadsheet, because you'll forget it.

You will also need to repeat this with end users, using actual documents (copies of them), to see if the applications make sense, don't crash, don't screw up the round-trip. Also, see if the app is fast enough for them. The on-screen keyboard uses CPU, so an app that feels fine in read-only mode might not feel so good in editing mode.

On Installing Software

Apple has a program called Volume Purchase Program that is nice. You sign up for it, and can buy software at a discount, and provision it for users remotely. You can also remove the software remotely (allegedly). To deploy software over the air, you need to sign up with a Mobile Device Manager (MDM) service. There are many of these services, and most are targeting enterprise customers and school districts (like the infamous iPad deployment at LAUSD), but the following seem to focus on small business:

Codeproof, Devicelink, Meraki, and Mojave.

We'll test all of them, but right now, I'm using Meraki because it's free, and has a familiar brand due to it's previous existence as a wifi mesh network company (something unrelated to this incarnation, but whatevah).

You link up these two services, then install a small client onto the target devices. Then you send an activation/permission link to each target device by email (or forward the URL to the device via iMessage). From that point on, you can "purchase" free apps via the VPP website, and deploy to each user.

It's nice - no more on-screen keyboard and tiny screen. You can use your regular keyboard, and gigantic monitor. All your installations are documented in the system! No more ignorance about what's installed, and where.

On Registering for Cloud Services

To run these tests, you need cloud file server space on multiple services, unfortunately. To manage passwords, I'm using LastPass. It's a good password manager that has a nice random password generation feature. You can create a unique, random password for each service, and not worry about security breaches causing your account on another service being compromised. The damage is done, but it's contained.

Sample MS Word Document.docx59.87 KB