I've had quite a lot of colleagues and friends ask me about CloudOn. For the un-initiated, CloudOn is a service which is at least for now, is completely free and unencumbered by any restrictions. It provides a genuine version of Microsoft Office on your iPad (and some android tablets too). You can edit Word docs, excel spreadsheets and even powerpoint presentations in the same interface you know, and, err, love. Apart from being an online only affair, CloudOn does a surprisingly good job of delivering. You can also view PDF documents with Adobe Reader, rather than swap out of CloudOn to do this.
Some of it's upsides (or downsides, depending upon what part of the data leakage and/or sovereignty issue you sit upon) is that CloudOn is a fully cloud based service. All of your documents can be stored in your choice of DropBox, Google Drive or Box.net. You can even use all three if you have documents already residing on them all. As I mentioned above, to use CloudOn, you must be online to use the service, it doesn't have any notion of working offline.
The first thing I wanted an answer to when I started to use CloudOn was "Is this legit?", after all, free never usually means free, and whilst CloudOn do talk about adding more 'enterprise' services to the product later on at a cost, it would seem that CloudOn legitimately purchase volume licenses for Microsoft office products to provide them as a service. I'm sure that they have a pretty sweet discount set up with Microsoft to make that happen, however, venture capital funding doesn't last forever, so I checked around. There's quite a lot of information on the web about the legitimacy of the service, but the CloudOn web site covers it off best:
"CloudOn is a Microsoft partner and has legitimately licensed the Microsoft technology we use to deliver the Microsoft Office components of our service. In preparation towards launching our service we have engaged with Microsoft – the Office team, the license compliance team, and a team that oversees our business relationship – to ensure that we are properly licensed and in compliance with the respective licensing agreements.
We hope that this lends some clarity to our licensing situation. We are thankful for the strong endorsement we have gotten from our users, and we look forward to serving you via the CloudOn workspace."
So, that settles that then. Or at least it's good enough for me. So, the other big burning question is, how can this be free and how does anyone make any money? There's a vague answer about time limits on CloudOn's website which sounds like they may introduce a free version which is time limited in future releases:
"Currently, CloudOn is completely free and and there is no time limit.
In this first release, we would like to allow you to be more productive on the iPad. We are looking forward to your feedback so that we may better understand what you'd like to use CloudOn for.
At some point in the future, CloudOn may become a time-based service. For now, however, you can work in CloudOn as long as you'd like."
Our friends over at TechCrunch found out some more details recently about CloudOn. They recently secured a second stage of venture capital funding which CEO Michael Gadekar wants to plough into competing with an impending official MS Office App for the iPad. Gadekar states “The future for us is about redefining productivity. We are much more than giving you Office on the iPad,” he says. “We clearly believe Microsoft will launch their own version of Office on the iPad. Our view is that there is a need to be able to change the experience, so that one can interact with not just the files, but the information within the files.” In the short-term, what that means is group collaboration."