I finally found a Microsoft Office app that is actually free! There is no doubt that Quickoffice Pro and Documents To Go are excellent apps in their own regards but as I’ve mentioned before if another app is free, ad-free, and proficient enough for classroom use then it will have to be the go-to app. Paid apps may usually be superior but the cost times the number of student iPads for a classroom can outweigh the benefit. Quickoffice Pro is $19.99 and Documents To Go Premium is $16.99. Times that by a classroom size of anywhere between 10 to 25 students and you can already feel that a free app is sounding like the wise choice. Especially when that money can be used for other educational or productivity apps. So the search continues to find such an app. Enter OnLive Desktop.
You’ll first have to sign up for a free OnLive account. Once you do you can begin uploading any Word, PowerPoint, and Excel files. For the free OnLive account you are given 2 gigs of cloud space. Once you’re all set install the free OnLive Desktop app onto your iPad and sign in. The first thing you’ll notice is that the app is designed to look like you are using Microsoft Windows.
Click on the documents folder and you’ll see all the documents you’ve uploaded or just click on either Word, Excel, or PowerPoint to create a new file. Everything continues to feel just like a Microsoft environment. When you open any three of the Office programs they appear just like they do on a desktop computer so there is just a small learning curve but for the most part if you’ve used Microsoft Office then you already know how to use this app. Microsoft Paint is also included in this app as well as a calculator so you don’t have to leave the app just to make calculations. You can see from the above screenshot that it also includes Internet Explorer, however, you’ll have to upgrade to the Plus version which is $4.99 a month if you want to use it. The keyboard for this app is not the standard iPad keyboard although it looks very similar. It includes Ctrl, Alt, and Fn buttons so that you can perform certain commands such as copy and paste (Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V). Also, the keyboard doesn’t automatically appear. You have to click on the keyboard icon on the bottom and to get rid of it you have to hit the minimize keyboard button on the keyboard.
Disappointingly, the double-space doesn’t input a period which I find very annoying. I will also admit that the app does feel kind of clunky meaning that it is not always responsive. For example, sometimes you may have to click on an icon two or three times to get it to respond but overall it does the job. I also find it annoying that every time you leave the app and come back to it you have to sign in again. So if you’re writing a paper and you need to check a website for something then when you switch back you’ll have to click sign-in again. It takes a good 10 seconds to log back in which can be frustrating when doing a research paper and you’re constantly referring back to a website. At least it brings you back to where you left off though. Another oddity I’ve been coming across is that when you launch the app sometimes a message appears saying it has trouble connecting to the network and you have to restart the app to get it to work again. However, OnLive Desktop is perfect though for PowerPoint Presentations if your classroom is set up to mirror your iPad to a big screen. Also, the fact that it looks just like Microsoft Office is extremely helpful because students will already know how to find any features they need. This is a great addition to iPads used in the classroom.
I am glad to see that there is a Microsoft Office app that is free. It may not be as innovative and fast as Quickoffice Pro and Documents To Go but it does do what it promises. In all honesty, I would say this is more for editing Office files than it is for creating them. Maybe if you or your classes are using bluetooth keyboards this could be more efficient although I haven’t tested that myself. If that is the case I can definitely see teachers creating worksheets or students writing papers with this app. In the end however, I find that the fact that you have to keep relogging in very frustrating. Add the fact that the app just isn’t as responsive as one expects from iOS apps and the network connectivity issue when launching the app leads me to believe that this app is just not ready for classroom use which is why I believe this app is only helpful for editing files and not actually creating files. And I’m really only talking about last-minute edits. Like if a student wrote out a paper at home and is just making final edits in class before he submits it. Hopefully, this app gets an update soon and becomes much more fluid. It has such great potential so I really hope it does. If that happens I will update accordingly. If you’re willing give it a try yourself and let me know your thoughts. Hopefully you’ll have a better experience. I guess the lesson here is you get what you pay for?
Reason for update: After using this app more I realized the cons I mentioned just happen far too often to be able to recommend for classroom use.