Earlier this year, the Internet was abuzz with what appeared to be a version of Microsoft Word running on the iPad. Today, we're no closer to seeing Word as a native iPad app than we were when it was spotted briefly in the wild six months ago.
That doesn't mean that you can't edit or create Word documents on an iPad. There are a number of offerings that bring the Microsoft Office experience to the iPad, such as DataViz's Docs to Go or Quickoffice, as well as services such as CloudOn, Nivio Online Desktop and InstallFree Nexus. You can even use Microsoft's web apps to edit Word documents in a pinch, if you have Google's web browser, Chrome, installed on your iPad.
Of the various alternatives available to Word lovers, InstallFree Nexus is an intriguing one, even though it seems to be ill named. Its use of "Nexus" is bound to get the app confused with Google-backed hardware of the same name. Moreover, there's nothing to "install" -- the service runs entirely from the cloud -- and there's nothing "free" for subscribers who want to use Microsoft Office apps from the service over the long haul.
Joining the service is fast and easy. During the registration process you provide an e-mail address, create a password and associate a cloud storage service with your account. Storage services supported by InstallFree Nexus include Dropbox, Skydrive, Google drive and Box.com.
Once logged in to InstallFree Nexus, you can swiftly import files from your cloud storage service then work on them in any Microsoft Office program. When you're finished, you can save your file to your cloud storage and return to it from any device that can run a browser, including the iPad's version of Safari.
On the iPad, gestures can be used to work within Word or other applications. A three-finger tap, for instance, displays a virtual keyboard in Word with a traditional QWERTY layout, including numbers and symbols in the top row, and embedded function keys, F1-F12.
Apple's Bluetooth keyboard can also be used with Word in InstallFree Nexus. However, it does require that the virtual keyboard be shut off from the settings menu.
A problem Word users will immediately find with using the word processor on the iPad is that most of the icons on the ribbon bar are too tiny to be very useful. And with the ribbon bar and keyboard displayed on the screen, very little text space is left on the tablet's screen.
As a service, InstallFree Nexus doesn't seem ready for prime time either. Word crashed occasionally. Sometimes the site freezes. My link to Dropbox was dropped and I couldn't access my files from within Word. And the performance within Word was sluggish. All of which added up to not a very pleasant experience.
Currently, InstallFree Nexus is offering a free 60-day trial of its service that includes use of Office 2010 apps. After that, those apps are offered on a subscription basis: $4.99 a month/$49.99 a year for students; $19.99 a month/$199.99 a year for non-students.
In addition to offering cloud access to Microsoft programs, InstallFree Nexus offers free access to the LibreOffice suite.