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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Two new(-ly discovered) free options

As I noted earlier, I have been continuing to keep my eyes open for free options for writers who wish to unchain from the desktop and become Cloud Authors, and in so doing discovered two additional options that hadn't come up before. Both of these options are free-as-in-beer (though, both are proprietary and therefore not free-as-in-speech), but both do one thing none of the others do: permit creating and editing of documents in native Microsoft Word format.

"Why is that important?" you may ask. As is noted by +Guy Kawasaki and his co-author +Shawn Welch in their book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book (or in paperback form), Word is ubiquitous in the realm of publishing and editing, and nearly everyone you will want to deal with while writing or publishing your book will need Word-format files. Whether you like Microsoft or not (and, for the record, I don't), you will probably need to deal with their Office software eventually. In addition, it really is the most appropriate word processing software application for most writing. There are some alternates, and for simply writing down your book's contents (or, jotting notes and capturing ideas RIGHT NOW NOW NOW) these will do fine, but eventually any author will need Word.

With that in mind, why not use it on your iPad? Well, for starters, you can't go to microsoft.com and download iPad or iOS versions of Office; Microsoft simply doesn't make one (though, it has been reliably rumored that they will, soon, release a version; it is unlikely to be free, however). BUT WAIT! While it is true that you can't download Office from the App Store, or Microsoft's website, you can get Word on your iPad! How is this miracle possible? Are we talking about doggedly-slow Citrix? Are we talking about using some kind of Remote PC magic? No, not today. Today, we are talking about two products that allow you to run Office software on your iPad, and that do not cost a cent (above your cost for the iPad and any data plan you might have purchased).

The first offering is OnLive Desktop, from OnLive. The OnLive Desktop gives you a virtual PC desktop, with Office 2010 installed, and access to 2 GB of cloud storage on the OnLive servers. On the back-end (by my understanding), OnLive is a Microsoft Windows Server 2008 with the OnLive iPad app acting as the client connection. When the app is first opened after download and installation, it asks you for a username and password (or to create a sign in) for the OnLive service; you can also perform this initial account creation from the website, if you prefer. After creating the account, and logging in, it takes a few seconds for the app to connect to OnLive and then you are greeted with a Windows desktop, on which are shortcuts for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Internet Explorer, Adobe Reader, a Getting Started shortcut, and the Recycle Bin, Sample Files, and Documents icons. There is a Windows task bar on the bottom, with shortcuts (including one for a pop-up keyboard, Paint, and a calculator). In essence, you have just put a Windows Explorer on your iPad, though since the app is just a front end it really doesn't seem to take up much space.

I have noted a few things about it that I don't particularly like; it is slightly sluggish even on a WiFi network with no other devices vying for connections, it's Windows on your iPad (basically), and although it syncs to the OnLive servers, getting your files to your main computer (if you are so inclined) requires downloading them from the website (that is, the free option does not offer any way to use Dropbox, or SugarSync, or any of the other Cloud Storage options). You can pay to upgrade to a version that does permit that; the OnLive Desktop Plus version allows for Dropbox connectivity as well as some priority connection ability, and other options, but is a monthly fee and not a single payment.

The other app is CloudOn, from CloudOn, which does things a little bit differently. Once you have downloaded and installed, launch the app and you are greeted with a page to either sign in, or sign up. Much like OnLive or many other apps, creating an account is just giving your email and creating a password. The app then takes you through a series of setup steps, permitting you to create connections to your Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive, and/or Box accounts, and then going through a brief introduction to the app, then putting you into the CloudOn workspace. The short version of this is: there's a button that permits you to open Word, Excel, or Powerpoint, creating a new file; or, if you've connected to any of the other Cloud Storage options available, you can drill down into them and open files directly. The interface does take a little bit of exploring to get the feel for how it works, but it really does work.

Like the OnLive Desktop, typing in Word in CloudOn seems ever so slightly sluggish. Aside from that, I don't yet have any real complaints about CloudOn, particularly since it connected to my Dropbox, Google Drive, and SkyDrive accounts with no problem.

Next week, I will be doing a review of some of the paid options available for writers (aside from paid-upgrade versions of the free apps already reviewed), and then I will be making a report and a recommendation for any would-be (or, about-to-be) Cloud Authors out there.

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