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Forcing Office Web Apps to open on an iPad

CNET's Ina Fried tries to get the full browser-based versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint running on the Apple slate--and comes tantalizingly close.

With Microsoft's Office Web Apps out in the wild, I thought it was time to try to test their limits.

For a while now, Microsoft has said that the experience on the iPhone would be similar to that in other mobile browsers--allowing document viewing, but not the editing and other features found in the full Web Apps.

Through some work, though, I managed to get the iPad to try to open up the full Office Web Apps. By clicking around various pages within Windows Live, I found some that had an option to click to switch to the "PC version" of the site. Doing so, and then navigating back to the Office tab allowed me to see what I could and could not force the iPad to do. I was unable to create and edit a new Word, PowerPoint, or OneNote document, but did manage to create and edit a basic Excel spreadsheet, even getting it to perform a simple calculation. (Four Web Apps minus three that don't work equals one that does.)

Now, again, creating and editing Office documents on an iPad is not supported, so it's not surprising it doesn't really work in the mobile version of Safari. That said, with iPads flying off the shelves, it probably should be a supported browser. And Microsoft might want to rethink that decision not to create native apps for the iPhone and iPad as well.

If things at the recent D: All Things Digital conference are any indication, the technorati are moving quickly to the iPad and this seems like a crowd that the Office team can ill afford to lose as customers. It makes sense to invest in Windows Phone, but if I were running Office, I wouldn't want to bet my business on it.

For the record, here's the list of officially supported browsers for the full Web Apps: Internet Explorer 7 and 8; Firefox 3.5 on Windows, Mac, and Linux; Safari 4 on Mac; and Google's Chrome. (Microsoft originally said it wouldn't guarantee they would work in Chrome, but appears to have changed its mind.)

Windows Live opens the mobile (view-only) versions of the Web Apps when using Internet Explorer on Windows Mobile 5 or later; Safari 4 on iPhone 3G or 3GS; BlackBerry 4 and later; Nokia S60, NetFront 3.4, 3.5, and later; Opera Mobile 8.65 and later; and Openwave 6.2, 7.0, and later.

Other desktop browsers aren't blocked by the Web Apps, but aren't fully supported either, so it's use at your own risk.

Of note, Windows Live was unable to create a new Office document at all using Internet Explorer 6, instead giving me a message that "Windows Live is designed for you, but maybe not for your browser." Oddly, the error message suggested that IE 6 was sufficient for Windows Live (which it is, just not for the Web Apps part).