April 12, 2012, 6:12 AM — For some reason, 2012 is shaping up to be the year of cloud-based Windows 7 and Microsoft Office offerings, including scarily bad services such as OnLive Desktop, which was a media darling in January based on nothing more than demos. The real product is all but unusable -- you lose your connection when you switch to other apps, for example, and you can't use the iPad's native keyboard. Plus, the company violated Microsoft's Windows 7 licensing terms, offering an essentially illegal desktop-as-a-service product. (That issue has since been resolved.)
CloudOn is different. It's a cloud service you should seriously consider if you work with Microsoft Office on your iPad and need more capabilities than the native iWork or Quickoffice apps provide. The 2.0 version released this week is truly compelling.
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CloudOn does several things right. First, it uses your Dropbox or Box cloud storage to save and access the files you are working on, and you can use both services, such as to separate personal and work projects. That means no messy file transfers before you go or when on the road, as OnLive requires. Your files are accessible from a variety of devices, including your iPad for access by other apps. If you use Box's enterprise service offering, you can even take on files in a workgroup setting and under IT management policies.
Second, CloudOn uses native iOS capabilities where it makes sense. For example, when working with text, you get the iPad's own onscreen keyboard or you can use a Bluetooth keyboard, if you have one -- not the funky, too-small Windows 7 floating keyboard. CloudOn even adds to the standard oscreen ipad keyboard Windows-specific keys: the Ctrl, Alt, Del, and Esc keys, the F1 through F12 function keys, and the four cursor keys. You also get file sharing via email using the standard iOS Share facility.