I use my iPad(v1) almost every day. It’s my main book reading device and have the two or three books I’m reading loaded via Amazon Kindle. For access to my files I use a mix of my two cloud storage providers, Dropbox and ZumoDrive– really the only difference is the ZumoDrive file viewer allows me to open to full screen for reading and understands a couple of extra file formats, but I tend to keep business documents with one provider and personal documents on the other. Both backup to a third cloud provider.
My iPad News folder has ABC iView (good for catching up on Q&A) and my Media folder has TED, Wired and Adult Swim (good for catching up on Robot Chicken and Morel Orel). I use 2Screens for displaying powerpoint via my ipad to VGA adapter, it integrates with some cloud storage providers and can output web pages, videos, web pages (including HTML5) to the VGA out cable. There are very few apps which do this BTW.
Osforra HD is my current twitter client of choice, I use MobileRSS as my RSS reader and Amazon WindowShop is my latest discovery for browsing Amazon and buying new kindle titles, updating my wishlist and looking for reviews. Essentially the bulk of these applications allow me to pull information from the Internet and interact in a minor way.
But what about creating documents, editing business files and replacing my heavy MacBook Pro with a much lighter iPad? Is it possible to travel with just an iPad?
I’m yet to find an app which allows me to create a folder for a meeting inside a client folder (‘client A/2011 03/05 – discussion on requirements’ for example) in which I can store word documents, powerpoint slides, PDFs and photos as well as create new files for notes (which might be typed, spoken or drawn). And what about actually editing documents?
DropBox goes SO CLOSE to this allowing me to add videos or photos, but not edit, create or upload a document. Evernote could solve the creation of notes issue by adding DropBox support I guess, and that’s something I’ll take up with them.
What if you want to edit a Microsoft word doc or powerpoint slide?
Microsoft products have always had a difficult time with Apple products. Even the Microsoft produced Office for Mac has serious shortcomings in terms of cross compatibility and on the iPad you’re left in an even worse situation. On my Linux desktop it’s worse again; I run a whole Virtual Machine inside my Ubuntu 64 desktop so I can run Microsoft Office (don’t get me started on OpenOffice, it sucks for many of the same reasons I’m about to talk about).
Face it, unless you’ve created your document in Apple’s iPad app iPages from scratch, and don’t need to share it anywhere else other than Apple’s iWork suite (with massive limitations), iPad is all candy and no roughage. Read this fanboi review and then continue onto the comments for real world feedback.
Some of the issues importing Word Documents into iPages include:
- maintaining fonts (you can’t install fonts on your iPad) so massive font swapping takes place
- font sizes get mangled
- tabs and indents appear to be converted to wrapping text, all merged cells are unmerged
- background images (of any type) are removed
- background text linked to headers and footers may get moved
- table styles are rearanged and sometimes collapsed
- all 3D objects (charts, for example) get changed to 2D
- document tracking doesn’t exist, no tracked changes are maintained
- all document links (except web links) are removed
- text background colour isn’t maintained
- there’s no save as, so any change you make over writes your document with your new iPages formatting
Microsoft, together with a large number of other companies including Citrix and Google, would have us believe that the hardware you’re using to access the Internet and your files is slowly becoming irrelevant. The idea is that you will be able to access your documents from anywhere with any device, which includes your iPad, your iPhone, your Adroid tablet, your desktop computer or a public Internet connected kiosk.
This Microsoft ad is focused on Windows 7, but really they could be advertising Google Apps (multiple people can work on the same document at the same time) or some other shared folder solution (like, well, dropbox). The concept of accessing the rich environment of Microsoft Office word documents, powerpoint presentations and excel spreadsheets is what I’m trying to highlight here.
Does anyone else think the other waiter in the restaurant looks just a bit too similar to the ‘I’m a Mac’ guy? And with the “can I come?” question maybe Microsoft is hinting that the future of cloud may not include devices which have an Apple badge on them?
Actually I think this is partially true, Microsoft have released exactly five iPhone apps and only two of them are useful. None of them allow Microsoft Office functionality, although OneNote for iPhone allows syncing of data back into a Microsoft product on the desktop (via the cloud, of course). And the Android environment isn’t any better.
There are no iPad apps written by Microsoft Corporation at this time of this blog post although there are rumours there are iPad apps coming. Accessing Microsoft cloud storage is possible however, using a client which will link to Microsoft SkyDrive or Microsoft Live Mesh like iSMEStorage. This allows you to download a file and open it but you’re still restricted by how iPad apps import (or view) Microsoft Office files.
So what’s the solution? Perhaps you need to take your application into the cloud as well as your data? The tech term which refers to this change of where the application (Microsoft Word, for instance) is run, is called Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).
The idea is simple.
Install one application on your iPad, iPhone, Android tablet, Ubuntu linux desktop, Windows 7 desktop, Vista desktop, Windows95 desktop, or your Mac (other operating systems are also covered) and that application connects you to a remote server which runs your windows desktop with all the applications you need. This application is often called a ‘receiver’ and is hardware independent (yes, it’ll run on an iPad2).
Companies like Citrix, VMWare and Microsoft already provide the tools to create this environment, and companies like Enspire here in Australia have implemented an example called GoDesktop. Respectively it’s Citrix XenDesktop, VMWare View and Microsoft Desktop Virtualisation. While it’s a bit of a sales pitch, the following video is a good example of how it all works.
In the wild it’s a very similar experience. I logged onto the Enspire website and signed up for a demo account. Tiffany from Enspire got back to me within a few hours and provided me with a username and password. GoDesktop uses a Citrix XenDesktop environment, and I already had the Citrix Receiver software loaded on my iPad. I fired up safari and browsed to http://www.godesktop.com.au.
Once I logged in, I clicked on the ‘desktop’ icon and was prompted to open the Citrix ICA file in my iPad Citrix Receiver software. I was automatically logged into a Windows 7 image, with Microsoft Office pre-installed. Simple!
Using the Citrix Receiver to navigate is pretty straightforward once you get used to it, I especially like the three finger tap to bring up the keyboard and take it away. I found using Microsoft Word easy, and using the web interface to my cloud storage could easily download files and save them again in an environment which maintained the formatting of my Word and Powerpoint files.
The citrix receiver has help built into the application, such as the following.
And what about speed I hear you ask? The below is taken at Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building using a Telstra NextG connection via bluetooth from my iPad to my iPhone. And it worked just fine.
To the cloud!
(follow up: if you’d like some help looking at solutions such as GoDesktop please drop me a note or leave a comment, I’d be happy to assist.)