Vendor insists suite works well on all mobile platforms.
Microsoft has rejected claims that its cloud productivity suite Office 365 was not suitable for non-Microsoft smartphones and tablets or Apple computers.
Some media coverage, such as a heavily critical review by InfoWorld’s Galen Gruman, complained that Office 365 was unusable on smartphones and tablets running Apple iOS or Android operating systems.
“For the rest of us – especially the 99 percent of mobile users who don’t use the Windows Phone platform – Office 365 is irrelevant because it is unusable,” Gruman wrote.
In particular, Gruman attacked Microsoft for not allowing iPhone, iPad and Android users to edit documents in Office Web Apps, the online versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel that form part of Office 365.
Office 365 was compatible with all the major software platforms because it used the same ActiveSync technology to connect with Windows mobile phones as with Android and iOS phones, said Lee Hickin, an online services technology specialist for Microsoft Australia.
“Remote wipe, remote locate, calendar sync, calendar integration, mail push and pull – it’s the same on every platform,” Hickin said.
Hickin said that editing was difficult on the iPad because the mobile interface for Office Web Apps was intended primarily to view and not edit documents. The limitations of the mobile interface were partly due to Microsoft’s belief that tablets were for reading and not creating documents, Hickin said.
“It’s not necessarily an iPad failing or a Web Apps failing. The Office Web Apps present an interface that is sensible to that tool.
“We think an iPad, like any tablet, is a consumption device for reading or consuming data. So when you go to editing it’s not going to feel as natural as a PC platform,” Hickin said.
However, Hickin added that the same answer might be different in six months “as we evolve Office 365 for mobile devices”.
It was possible to edit documents in the mobile interface “but the experience is going to vary depending on the document type”, Hickin said.
While Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system used the same Office Web Apps mobile interface as the iPhone and iPad, Microsoft had built dedicated Phone 7 applications for better editing of documents in Office Web Apps and SharePoint Online, Hickin said.
Hickin added that Apple and Google were free to build dedicated interfaces to Office 365 on their respective mobile platforms but had chosen not to.
ActiveX and Silverlight not required
Hickin also rebutted claims that Office 365 required Microsoft proprietary technology which made crippled the suite’s ability to function on non-Microsoft devices.
“Neither [ActiveX or Silverlight] are required for the service in any way whatsoever. In all the interfaces in Office 365, none of them relies on proprietary technology at all,” Hickin said.
Office 365 users that built websites with Office 365 using SharePoint Online could choose to use ActiveX or Silverlight, but that was a customer’s choice and not enforced by Microsoft, Hickin said.
Office 365 was fully compatible with Mac computers and the Safari and Firefox browsers, Hickin said.
“We have made significant efforts to make sure Safari, Firefox and (Internet) Explorer are all on a par. It would be a wildly big statement to say they are identical in every single way, but they are presented as fully supported for every part of the (Office 365) service,” Hickin said.
Microsoft was due to release in early October the Mac version of Lync Online, a communications tool that linked many parts of Office 365.
Microsoft Office 2010 on the Mac was integrated with Office 365 in “exactly the same” way as the Windows version of Office, Hickins said. “Office on the Mac has the same experience as Office 2010” on the PC.
The only exception was the Microsoft email program for the Mac, Entourage, which used a different, more limited interface (webdav) to Outlook on the Mac and Windows.
Hickin noted that Office 2010 (on the Mac and the PC) was different to Office Professional Plus, the latest version of Office for the desktop which comes bundled with Office 365’s most expensive licences. Office 2010 was a consumer product while Office Professional Plus was for a “very different” market of business users and came with applications such as databases and forms.