Not sure if want

We’ve seen a lot of cool stuff from Microsoft recently, first with the iPad Office announcement and then with the BUILD conference. New CEO Satya Nadella comes from Microsoft’s cloud division, and with him in charge and Ballmer gone, Microsoft looks like they might be serious about going from “a PC on every desk” to “Microsoft services on every device,” no matter who makes that device or what OS it runs.

So I started wondering. Could I be happy with Apple hardware, Apple media (aside from Kindle, because really, Apple, iBooks is embarrassing) and Microsoft services? I decided to find out.

Yesterday I signed up for a free month of Microsoft’s Office 365. This gives me the ability to edit data on documents in my Microsoft OneDrive via the iPhone, iPad and the web on my Chromebook. I have calendars, contacts, email and tasks via Outlook.com, and the tasks sync to my iOS devices, something Google Tasks doesn’t do.

So. How is it?

Meh.

The first thing I noticed is that Microsoft’s apps are maddeningly inconsistent. The iPhone version of Office (it’s not split into separate apps like the iPad’s Word, Excel and Powerpoint) has a nifty feature for viewing the “outline” of a document and jumping back and forth via headers. This is hella useful on a small screen and just the thing novelists need to quickly get to a particular chapter.

Word for iPad doesn’t do this. Neither does Word Online. So for the platforms where I’d be more likely to edit my manuscript, I’m stuck scrolling through an 80,000 word document. If I want to be able to jump around the document and type comfortably, I need to use the Windows or Mac versions of Word (which I can have on up to five computers).

But okay, maybe I can work around that. What about styles? As both an author-publisher myself and in my business formatting ebooks for others, styles are a must for formatting. Manually applying font styles or adding a discreet page break before chapter headings is something savages do.

The iPhone version doesn’t support styles at all. You can make text bold, italics or underlined, and you can change the text and background colors. But that’s it. The iPad version and the web version do support applying styles. And in opening a .docx file saved from Google Drive in Word Online, I found that the styles I actually wanted weren’t in the style chooser, crowded out instead by loser styles like “Heading 7” and “Intense Emphasis.” Seriously, who uses those? And oddly, there was no way to change this.

The iPad and web versions of Word don’t allow you to alter or remove styles in any way. The only way to get back to my beloved “Heading 1,” “Heading 2” and “Normal” was to — stop me if you’ve heard this one — open the file in Word for Windows and edit the styles there. Once I’d done that, the styles I wanted showed up just fine in Word for iPad and Word Online.

So currently, I’m still testing, but I have the sinking feeling that the New Microsoft is still more an idea than reality. Too often I’m sent running back to Windows to do any “real” work. I’m not saying the non-Windows versions of Word are afterthoughts, but they’re certainly not equal citizens, either. 

Next up: Microsoft’s OneNote vs Evernote.

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