The Future of Pocket Office

by Reads (46,170)

This was originally published last year, but no real progress has been made on this issue, so Brighthand is reposting this editorial, hoping to get things moving.

To many hard-core Pocket PC users, the ability to read and edit Microsoft Office documents is critical. Unfortunately, few users are satisfied with the current versions of Pocket Word and Pocket Excel. But exactly how to remedy this situation isn’t as simple as it might seem.

If you’re new to all this, let me offer some background. Pocket Word and Pocket Excel come installed on all Pocket PCs as part of the Pocket PC platform. They provide users with the ability to read and edit Word and Excel documents created on a desktop computer and then return the updated documents back to the desktop using Microsoft’s ActiveSync synchronization software.

While this sounds good at first blush, Pocket Word and Pocket Excel simply don’t offer many of the features users have come to expect from using the desktop versions of these products. For example, Pocket Word doesn’t support headers, footers, line spacing, footnotes, superscripts, and subscripts, while Pocket Excel doesn’t support charts. Even worse, when you edit a document on your handheld, everything in it that the handheld version doesn’t support is stripped out, lost forever.

So this brings up the question, what should be done? Unlike typical editorials, I’m not going to offer my opinion. Instead, I’ll provide you with several options, along with their advantages and disadvantages, and you can vote on the option you prefer most in the poll I’ve created in this article’s discussion thread.

Improve Pocket Office Without Changing the Price

To some, the most obvious solution is for Microsoft to vastly improve Pocket Word and Pocket Excel and still bundle them at no cost with Pocket PC.

Advantages People get what they expect when they read the packaging for a Pocket PC handheld and see that it comes with applications called Word and Excel, instead of being disappointed when they find out how limited these apps really are. It can’t be good for the platform when a new user finds out that Pocket Word, quite frankly, butchers his documents.

Disadvantages Realistically, more resources spent on Pocket Word and Excel means less time improving ActiveSync or the Connection Manager. Is that what you really want?

In addition, this option would likely discourage the development of third-party applications. Developers are reticent to create Office-type applications for the Pocket PC, fearing Microsoft might release versions of its own, and few people are going to buy a third-party word processor if their handheld comes bundled with an excellent version of Pocket Word. Still it comes down to, do you care if there are third-party alternatives?

Improve Pocket Office and Offer It for Sale

In this option, Microsoft would continue to bundle the basic versions of Pocket Word and Pocket Excel. However, it would also offer a set of fuller-featured Pocket Office applications at a premium price.

If Microsoft does this, it should really change the names of the bundled apps. I’d suggest Pocket Word Lite and Pocket Excel Lite. This would give first-time buyers a more realistic expectation of what they are getting.

Advantages Microsoft actually makes very little off each handheld sold — somewhere in the area of $10, according to some industry sources. There’s also a theory that’s been circulating for years that Microsoft deliberately hobbled the Office apps bundled with the Pocket PC because it didn’t want to cut into sales of the desktop versions. If Microsoft can make some money selling “premium” Pocket applications it will have an obvious reason to develop them and make them into something people will be willing to pay for. Question is, will people pay extra?

Disadvantages Again, this option discourages third-party companies from developing similar apps. Plus, it could increase the amount we have to pay for our handhelds, probably by a fairly substantial amount. I can see Microsoft charging $50 for Pocket Word or Pocket Excel, and $75 for the pair. On the other hand, the desktop versions of these apps cost much more. Microsoft Word 2002 costs $340 and so does Microsoft Excel 2002, while Microsoft Office XP Standard Edition is $480.

Encourage Licensees to Bundle Third-Party Replacements

Microsoft could still include Pocket Word and Pocket Excel but encourage its licensees to bundle enhanced third-party replacements, such as SpreadCE and TextMaker. Incidentally, this is the strategy PalmSource takes with its licensees.

Again, if it pursues this option, Microsoft should change the names of its Office apps to Pocket Word Lite and Pocket Excel Lite to keep expectations more in line with what these apps actually deliver.

Advantages Licensees will be free to pick the very best of the third-party apps available, rather than hoping the version that Microsoft creates is the best. This will strongly encourage third-party development of Office-type applications, with each company hoping its apps will be picked up by a licensee for inclusion in its handhelds.

Disadvantages Licensees can’t be forced to do this, and if they choose not to we’ll be right back where we are now. Plus, the apps they pick might not be very good ones, leaving the situation pretty much unchanged.

Do Nothing

Maybe you believe the current situation isn’t all that bad. If you don’t use a lot of formatting in your documents, you might be happy with the current versions of Pocket Word and Excel. Or maybe you don’t access Office documents on your handheld at all.

Advantages Developers can spend their time taking care of the other things in the platform that need fixing, such as repeating alarms, for example.

Disadvantages There will still be plenty of people unhappy with Pocket Office.

So, there you have it. Please click on the Discuss this story link below to vote for the option you think is best.

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