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First it was Apple, then Google, and now Microsoft. The three companies providing productivity apps that work on at least a few mainstream platforms — Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android — have each cut out or severely crippled in their mobile apps the ability to work with documents stored anywhere but in their own cloud environments.
If Microsoft Office, Google Docs, and Apple iWork restrict mobile users to OneDrive and SharePoint, Google Drive, and iCloud, respectively, why bother with cloud storage services like Dropbox, Box, or Citrix ShareFile on the desktop? Although they may still be accessible from Windows and OS X versions of Office, Docs, and iWork, the fact that they’re not accessible from mobile devices like the iPad mean their desktop compatibility has less and less value as more and more workers go mobile at least part of the time.
You’d think that Microsoft, Google, and Apple were trying to kill Box, Dropbox, ShareFile, and other such cloud storage services by eliminating their universality. I don’t think Microsoft, Google, and Apple are targeting cloud storage vendors as much as trying to force users to stay in their own ecoystems by restricting their compatibility with third-party services. But the effect could be the same.
The limits of sharing in Apple iWork, Google Drive, and Microsoft Office
Here’s what the three giants are doing:
Apple’s iWork suite — Pages, Keynote, and Numbers — saves and opens files from its iCloud service by default in iOS. Files are automatically copied locally for offline use, then resynced to iCloud when you have a connection. Even before iCloud, when you had to use iTunes sync to transfer files, iWork discouraged the use of third-party storage services: You can open and save files to Box, Dropbox, and any WebDAV-compatible storage server, but you have to import from and export to those servers using the services’ WebDAV URLs — not a straightforward process. (Dropbox charges $5 per month for the privilege, but Box offers the capability for free.) You can also export files to other apps, such as to storage services’ native apps or other document editors using iOS’s Open In facility.
In OS X, you can directly open and save files from and to virtual drives from any cloud server, as well as import and export files in Office formats. In Windows, you must go through a browser to use iWork; you can import and export files between Windows and iCloud.
Google’s Quickoffice opens from or saves locally or to Google Drive, but if you open files from Google Drive, you’re forced to use the Google Drive editor instead of the one from Quickoffice, and Google Drive can barely edit text in iOS or Android. There’s no syncing for offline use. Forget about any real formatting. What’s sad is that Quickoffice used to let you open and save files directly from and to a variety of cloud storage services — until Google bought it. You can also export files to other apps, such as to storage services’ native apps or other document editors using iOS’s Open In facility.
In Windows and OS X, Google Drive can handle more formatting via a browser, as well as import and export files locally in Office formats.
Microsoft’s Office for the iPad only opens and saves files locally, or to OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint cloud storage. (There is no automatic syncing; you manually have to manage files for offline access.) There’s also no support for Open In in iOS, so you can’t send files to other applications or storage services in iOS. In iOS and Windows, you can open and save files locally, as well as from and to virtual drives for storage services.
In Windows, the default storage location is OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, and/or SharePoint, based on the user’s account. It’s extra work to save to local drives and storage services’ virtual drives. In OS X, Microsoft’s OneDrive and SharePoint storage services — but not OneDrive for Business — are accessible through an awkward add-on tool called Microsoft Document Connect that makes using Microsoft’s cloud storage services a real pain; the non-Business version of OneDrive can also be accessed as a virtual hard drive.
As you can see, Apple and Google both strongly discourage the use of third-party cloud storage systems in iOS (and, in the case of Google, Android). Microsoft essentially forbids it and favors its own cloud storage services in Windows, as Google does for its Web-based Google Drive editor. Apple is the most open to other storage systems, but iCloud is its default.
At one time, Box, Dropbox, and their ilk promised a universal storage system for any operating system that mattered: Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android. That meant you could work on the same documents on any of several devices and applications, as well as make them available to other users. They were the glue for the fractured mobile world, not to mention between mobile and desktop devices.
No more — you have to work hard to use Box, Dropbox, and their ilk from iOS productivity apps. For all practical purposes, iOS is the mobile business platform, so cutting out third-party storage services from iOS productivity apps essentially eliminates their ability to be a centrally managed, universally accessible conduit for business documents.
Why even bother with Box, Dropbox, and so on?
Enterprise hopes for managed cloud storage are dashed
A couple years ago, Box CEO Aaron Levie anticipated that Apple, Google, and Microsoft would provide free cloud storage as part of their ecosystems, making services like his commercially unviable for consumers. His answer: Focus on enterprises that want to manage documents in user-accessible environments — and pay for the privilege.
But look at what’s happened: The major tool in most businesses is Microsoft Office, and Apple, Google, and Microsoft have made access to Office files free but captive to their ecosystems. In other words, Box and the rest have targeted the enterprise space that Apple, Google, and Microsoft are making hostile to third-party storage service providers.
It’s true that Apple, Google, and Microsoft have no enterprise management tools for their mobile clients — you have access, or you don’t. But so what? For the documents that really count — Office documents — you can’t use Box, Dropbox, ShareFile, or other services instead, even though they provide such management capabilities. Poof! There goes the core value proposition of document management, at least in a core area. (I have no doubt Microsoft will at some point extend its Information Rights Management and Intune/System Center technologies to OneDrive and to mobile SharePoint access, but that could take years, so IT will be in an awkward position.)
In the meantime, if you want to use Office documents on mobile devices, you go with the cloud platform that comes with the mobile app you’ve chosen. This likely means businesses will face having documents stored in two or more cloud storage services based on employee app preferences. Whatever is stored in Box, Dropbox, ShareFile, and so on will be essentially orphaned, requiring real hoops for users to jump through to access — and especially to save back to.
Source: Associated Press