Keep taking the tablets

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ONLY a couple of years ago, no computer was complete without a copy of Microsoft Word or one of its rivals, and a spreadsheet or two. But the coming of tablets has made us question whether they’re really necessary.

Regular PC Office software doesn’t run on iPads, and although there are apps that mimic some of what word processors do, they’re expensive and generally inelegant.

So many of us have taken to using online services like Google Docs to create, view and edit documents, charts, tables and so on. The advantage is that you don’t need to take your work with you from one computer to another; it’s always in the “cloud”, awaiting your return.

But now there’s a second alternative – a version of Microsoft Office that lives on your iPad and in the cloud simultaneously.

CloudOn lets you edit documents directly on your tablet, using the same Word, Excel and PowerPoint interface you know of old.

The difference is that instead of installing your own copy of the software on your iPad, you access CloudOn’s copy on the internet. Your work is then automatically synchronised in a Dropbox account which, like Google Docs, can be accessed from any computer at any time.

While it doesn’t offer quite the same experience as a desktop work processor or spreadsheet, it comes pretty close. And unlike the original Microsoft article, it’s free – although CloudOn says it may impose a “pricing structure” in the future.

All of which activity leaves Microsoft, for once, on the sidelines. They are rumoured to be preparing their own official versions of Word and Excel for the iPad (and there will most certainly be a pricing structure for those) but by that time the need may have passed.

Meanwhile, if you want to try other options for editing Word documents on portable devices, there are versions of the Documents to Go office suite for iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry at prices starting from just under £10, depending on functionality. The rival QuickOffice Pro is available for Apple and Android devices at similar cost. They’re good, but with CloudOn and Google Docs around, free is better.