Lethal Combination

12/5/2012 9:12:01 AM

Last Sunday saw a scene that would warm the heart of Apple’s PR team, if similar events didn’t take place with such frequency and without any sign of such miracles. A friend appeared on my doorstep on her way back from the local Apple Store, happily clutching a new iPad and Mac mini and promising to dump Microsoft Office to run her business on iWork.

The background to her visit was that in her job as a meeting facilitator, she had tired of lugging a 15m MacBook Pro to out of office meetings. She wanted to invest in something more portable, hence the iPad, with a Mac mini for home office use. Her travelling role meant she collaborated on a number of documents with colleagues on a mix of PC5 and Macs. They had settled on the common currency of Microsoft Word to create documents, which were stored in a shared Dropbox account. It seemed to work reasonably well.

Description: iWork, an Office alternative for Macs

iWork, an Office alternative for Macs

Which brought her to the point of her visit. She was here to ask the best way to keep this setup going on the iPad. She knew Word for the iPad didn’t exist, but had been told by Apple Store staff that Pages on the iPad could fill the gap.

As a passionate defender of all things iWork, normally I’d wholeheartedly agree. In this case, though, mixing Pages on iPad, Word on PC and Dropbox could get very complicated.

Description: As a passionate defender of all things iWork, normally I’d wholeheartedly agree.

As a passionate defender of all things iWork, normally I’d wholeheartedly agree.

The first concern I raised was prefaced by the reassurance that Pages on the iPad is, generally speaking, very good at working with Word, even across platforms. But aside from the requirement to export the document to Word format from Pages, there is one significant hurdle, particularly for online collaboration: Pages for iPad doesn’t support tracking changes. More precisely, if changes in a document have been tracked in Word, those changes are automatically accepted when you open the document on the iPad.

Fortunately, in this case that worry was cheerily dismissed. The collaboration team didn’t use tracked changes, instead marking up any new content by highlight ing the text using Word’s Highlight tool, which does transfer to Pages on the iPad.

Description: That has the potential for a great collaboration environment.

That has the potential for a great collaboration environment.

It turned out the biggest problem was collaborating via Dropbox. Dropbox may be a superb online storage service, but it doesn’t play well with iWork on iOS. It isn’t completely incompatible: from the Dropbox iOS app, you can open Word files stored there in Pages. The trouble lies at the other end you can’t easily save an opened document back into Dropbox, as there’s no option within Pages to store on Dropbox.

The only workaround, I explained, was to use WebDAV, as iWork on iOS can store and open files on WebDAV-compatible servers. While Dropbox itself isn’t WebDAV compatible and according to the company, this isn’t in the product road map there are third-party services that add WebDAV compatibility to it You sign up to the service, link it to Dropbox, enter its WebDAV login details and you have direct access to your Dropbox folder from iWork.

But the service I initially suggested, DropDAV, charges a monthly subscription fee. Granted, it’s only a few pounds, but together with the other compatibility issues, and after dismissing the alternative suggestion of attempting to convince her colleagues to standardise on iWork, it proved the final straw for my friend. She elected to return the iPad and Mac mini to the Apple Store and replace them with a MacBook Air.

It was only much later my staircase wit kicking in again that I found something that might have changed her mind: a free WebDAV service, Otixo (, which in many ways, is better that Dr0pDAV. It not only works with Dropbox, but will also perform similar functions for a clutch of other online services, including Google Drive and Microsoft’s SkyDrive.

Once you’ve set up a free account at Otixo and logged in, you follow its step-by-step guide to link your chosen cloud drive to the service. On the iPad, you then open Pages. From its document library screen, tap the Download button and choose ‘Copy from WebDAV’. In the resulting window, enter the Otixo Server Address ( and sign in with your Otixo user ID and password.

Your Dropbox folder will then be visible to you within Pages, and you should be able to open and edit any compatible files, such as Word documents. When you’ve finished editing the document, you can then save it directly back to Dropbox by tapping the Spanner icon at the top right of the document window and choosing Share and Print > Copy to WebDAV. When presented with the choice of format (Pages, PDF or Word), choose Word. You’ll be prompted to choose whether you want to overwrite the existing document in the Dropbox folder. Choose Replace.

The Beauty Of the Dropbox service is that even through you’re overwriting the existing document, Dropbox will still keep a snapshot of previous versions of the document, so on the Dropbox website you can revert to an earlier version if you accidentally overwrite a document.

However, while syncing using iCloud is a near-seamless experience, working with a WebDAV server requires a more studious approach to syncing. Each time you open a Dropbox document in Pages, Keynote or Numbers, a copy of it is automatically added to the relevant app’s document browser window. And when you save the document as a Word file to Dropbox, this copy remains in the browser. So the next time you open a document from Dropbox, the iWork app creates a second copy of it in the document browser, appending a suffix to its filename to distinguish it from the first copy. When you save this second file back to the Dropbox, it will naturally save it under its new name, so leaving the original intact in your Dropbox folder. You’ll eventually end up with several different versions of the same document in Dropbox and A clutter of duplicates in the browser window. To avoid this, you need Dropbox B to keep deleting the copy from the iWork document browser each time you export the file to Dropbox. Equally, the Otixo is far from perfect. Its website can be glacially slow, and its free version limits the amount of data you transfer between Otixo and the synced devices to 2GB every month. If you’re regularly syncing large files from Mac to iPad, that bandwidth can quickly be eaten up. A saving grace is that unlimited bandwidth, at $5 per month, isn’t prohibitively expensive.

Against that, the advantage of Otixo over rival services is that it can access several different services in one place. On the iPad, files stored on Google Drive and Dropbox are only a couple of taps away, and on Otixo’s website you can copy items between services. Even better, you can set up collaborative areas called Spaces. Drag files from different linked online services into a single Space and you can collaborate on these copied files with invited users. And you can access Spaces on an iPad or iPhone as easily as you can get to your Dropbox files. That has the potential for a great collaboration environment.

This time, I couldn’t convince my friend that Pages for iPad was the best tool for the job, but subject to its parsimonious bandwidth capacity, Otixo comes close to allowing Office users to discard their laptops and use their iPad to collaborate.

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