Web/Tech, Writing

Word for the iPad: is it really any good?

Microsoft Office for iPad is out, finally. I’ve whined here for a years about how the iPad isn’t really up to snuff for serious business work. Does this change my opinion?

Well yes, substantially. I’ve never liked the Office alternatives available for iOS and Android. They always convert things. And not perfectly in my experience. The ability to edit directly in a version of Office is fantastic. Of course to do that you will need an Office 365 subscription but I’ve had one of those years. It’s a bargain — five installs of Office on Windows or Mac and now five installs of the tablet apps too, plus I get email and Exchange on my package for about £13.99 a month (you can subcribe for less if you drop the email I believe).

I can’t see myself using Excel on an iPad. Or PowerPoint (not when the VGA adapter costs a ridiculous £40 and so far as I can see you just get mirrored screens, not the useful notes facility you have with a laptop). But Word….?

Here’s what it looks like.


It’s nice, it’s clean, it had no problems dealing with a full-length book very quickly. If all you want to do is read and edit everyday Word documents this looks great. My requirements are a bit out of the ordinary though. I need to navigate long documents of 100K words or more. So I have reservations as well as things I’m pleased about. Let’s run through them…

The Good Points

  • Native application that works alongside OneDrive and Dropbox to open Word documents without any conversion, and with absolute accuracy as far as my own manuscripts are concerned. OneDrive is a one-step open process. With Dropbox you have the usual messy iPad thing of opening it in the viewer then sending it to Word with ‘Open with’ and then saving a local copy. But it works in the end.
  • The price if you’re an Office 365 subscriber is a steal — free.
  • Very easy to use and understand if you’re a Word user already.
  • Comments and track changes are handled very well indeed — much as they are on Office 13 as far as I can see.

The Drawbacks

  • No navigation facilities. So you can’t move from heading to heading to different parts of your document. You just have to keep on scrolling or do a search.
  • There are some font limitations on the iPad.
  • You can’t hide the Ribbon as you can on Windows and Mac (which I found very annoying for some reason). You can hide it actually — just tap the tab. Never knew this until pointed out on Twitter — thank you.
  • The keyboard is the ordinary iPad one without the added cursors and punctuation buttons you get on some other writing apps on the iPad.

In short… far and away the best word processor I’ve seen on the iPad and for lots of people this is going to be a real winner. But if you’re dealing with the heavy lifting of a full-length novel a Surface tablet, which comes with a proper version of Word pretty much as it is in Office 13, is a better bet. Not as nice a general tablet as the iPad, but more proficient for business.

Of course this is a version one iPad app and one can only hope Microsoft will deal with the finer points — hiding the ribbon, introducing some heading-based navigation system — later on. Just those two changes would alter my opinion radically.

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OneNote goes free for Windows… and on Mac

Microsoft’s OneNote is one of my favourite pieces of software, a great way for storing information, outlines and general ideas. The main drawbacks: it only worked on Windows, not Macs, though there are clients for Android, ioS and Windows Phone. And you needed Microsoft Office to get it.

Not any more. OneNote has just gone free for Windows and there’s a new Mac version out too — for free. You can get the Windows version here and the Mac one here. If you use it with an iPad or Android phone — or anything really — it’s best to set up your notebooks on Microsoft’s free Onedrive service so they’re accessible from lots of place. The Mac client doesn’t appear to work yet with OneNote notebooks stored on Office 365 seemingly — doubtless because Microsoft haven’t yet released proper document syncing for O365 on the Mac.

Have fun? Here are some pieces I’ve written about OneNote.

Web/Tech, Writing

Ulysses, an interesting, eccentric writing app for OS X

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be the first in your field. Scrivener started off as an innovative fledgling among writing apps back in 2007 and now is a piece of software used by writers, researchers and journalists around the globe. But as Keith Blount has freely conceded since Scrivener first appeared some of the inspiration for its approach to writing came from an app that’s still less well-known — Ulysses, now in its third incarnation from its German developers The Soulmen.

Being then minded to buy just about every writing app that appeared on OS X I picked up Ulysses 1 (at quite a price I seem to recall) when it first came out and then upgraded to Version 2 — and still never used it. From the start Ulysses has taken a very left field view of the writing process. It set out to be minimalist before minimalism was fashionable. It eschewed conventional word processing formatting in much the same way. Much as I was intrigued by this approach to writing the thing drove me nuts in its first two versions because the developers placed absolutely no store on such simple things as being able to make a word italic with any great ease.

Now version three is out — a completely new app, available on the Mac app store only (which means there’s no upgrade path for earlier users — though there is a demo version available too, details at the foot of this article). Happily Ulysses has seen some of the light. Italics are a doddle and many of my earlier misgivings have been addressed.

So what exactly is this curious piece of software? And should you be using it? Continue reading

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Web/Tech, Writing

A neat alternative to split screen in Scrivener

Here’s a familiar challenge: you want to work on one scene but know that what you’re going to write is dependent upon a scene, several stages back in the book, which is already done. The standard response to this situation, depending on the software you’re using, is either to split the screen between the two documents or open two windows, one for each bit of the book.

Perhaps it’s me but I’m no great fan of either. All those scroll bars and different bits of window get in the way. This is a book — one long story composed of different bits. I want to see it that way. Continue reading