Technology Solutions

Excel-lent Apps

Speed and portability make tablets a good laptop substitute for commercial real estate professionals, but they lack some essential business apps that would make them the ideal on-the-go tech tool. Among these is a native Microsoft Excel app that is capable of running macros and other advanced Excel functions. This shortfall is especially critical for CCIMs, who have been trained to use Excel-based financial tools in the Institute’s courses.

Learn more through CCIM’s Real Estate Financial Analysis Using Excel course.

Rumors about a Microsoft Office app have floated around the Internet during the past year. In mid-2012, Microsoft announced its new Surface tablet, which includes Excel and went on sale in October.

For commercial real estate pros who have already invested in a tablet and aren’t ready to replace it with the Microsoft Surface or wait for rumors of an Office app to come to fruition, there are some alternatives. The following apps provide some practical workarounds for using macro-enabled Excel files on iPad and Android tablets.

OnLive Desktop and CloudOn

OnLive Desktop and CloudOn are two free apps that connect users to cloud-based versions of Microsoft Office. The apps, available for iPad and Android tablets, include Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. Both apps run full versions of Office 2010 and are equipped to handle the macros used in CCIM’s Excel financial tools and any other functions found on a desktop version of Office.

OnLive users must create an account on the company’s website as a first step. CloudOn users are prompted to create an account on their tablets after downloading the app. OnLive runs Windows 7, so programs are opened either via the start menu or by tapping a desktop icon.

CloudOn’s interface is built around file browsing, so it doesn’t have a Windows desktop layout like OnLive. Once inside an Office file, the two apps are nearly indistinguishable.

CloudOn is free and doesn’t offer tiered pricing. OnLive’s basic service is free and includes 2 GB of storage. For $4.99 per month, users can upgrade to OnLive Desktop Plus, which includes integration to cloud-based storage services Box and Dropbox. The paid version also includes a Flash-enabled version of Internet Explorer.

File Management

To open a file with OnLive’s free version, users must upload it to OnLive’s website. The maximum file size is 100 MB, and only five files can be uploaded at one time. Synced files appear in the app’s “documents” folder. To download a file created with the app, users have to log in to the website and click the file name.

Unlike OnLive, CloudOn doesn’t host files. Instead, users access files stored in one of three cloud-based storage services — Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive. Files opened in CloudOn save automatically, so the “file” tab in Microsoft Office’s ribbon menu is disabled. While the auto-save feature can be helpful, disabling the file menu also disables the “save as” feature. Without that feature, users can’t save files in different formats.

Neither app can share files through iTunes, and only CloudOn is an “open with” option for iPad email attachments and Internet file downloads.

Licensing and Other Limitations

Accessing free versions of programs that cost more than $100 to download to your desktop computer raises licensing questions. Unfortunately, neither Microsoft nor OnLive have offered clear guidance on these questions. Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company, cautioned that “Microsoft could hold both OnLive and its customers responsible for any potential mislicensing.” Gartner recommends that companies considering OnLive review their Microsoft licensing agreements prior to using the app.

Using both apps presents a different set of mobility and usability challenges. Since both run in the cloud, neither work without a Wi-Fi or data connection. Neither app has redesigned Office for tablet usage, which means navigating Excel worksheets or menus with finger taps could frustrate users who are accustomed to the accuracy of a mouse pointer.

Other Alternatives

Remote access apps give tablet owners an alternative to OnLive and CloudOn, but these workarounds face similar limitations as the apps.

LogMeIn, a popular free remote access app, gives tablet users access to software and files on their desktop computers. As when using OnLive and CloudOn, the tablet must have Internet access to enable LogMeIn. The remote computer also must be on (not in sleep mode).

Once logged in, the remote desktop’s screen is shrunk to fit the tablet screen. As when OnLive and CloudOn, this presents usability problems. Tapping an Excel cell that was shrunk from a widescreen monitor to fit a tablet display can be frustrating.

Several Office clone apps, including QuickOffice and Documents To Go, include programs to edit and create Excel files. These apps work for iPad users looking for basic spreadsheet functionality, but they don’t support macros and more-advanced Excel functions. If Documents To Go doesn’t recognize a function, it locks the spreadsheet. Numbers, Apple’s spreadsheet software, is available as an iPad app and can open Excel files. Similar to the Office clones, it has some Excel functionality, but cannot run macros.

Dennis LaMantia is interactive marketing manager at the CCIM Institute.


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