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What you can and can't do with free mobile Office apps

What you can and can't do with free mobile Office apps

Previously, the free versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint for iOS and Android could only be used to view files

Microsoft has unlocked a set of authoring and editing features for the free versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint available for iPhone and iPad, and soon will do the same for Android tablets and Android smartphones. However, a number of capabilities remain available only to users who subscribe to Office 365.

Users will need to decide individually if the free versions, which until now only allowed viewing of files, meet their needs, or if they still fall short. If you're in the latter group, be aware that another free option exists. It's the browser-based Office Online edition of the suite, which runs very well on iPad's Safari in particular and which, at a glance, offers a number of the mobile app "premium" features. However, Office Online is designed to be used when connected to the Internet.

In any case, here is a sampling of the Office mobile apps' free and paid features, based on information provided by Microsoft.

Applicable to all three apps

In terms of text editing, free users can change font sizes, make text bold, underline, italicize and change its color from the basic drop down menu of color tiles. But the ability to apply a custom color and use the Text Styles and Word Art functions are premium features. Files with these elements that are opened with the free Word, Excel or PowerPoint apps will render correctly, however.

Also behind the premium fence are advanced capabilities to edit charts, such as the ability to change data labels and the legend; advanced capabilities to edit tables, such as changing colors of specific cells or rows of columns; and advanced editing of pictures, such as the application of reflections and shadows.

Free users also won't be able to edit files shared with them from OneDrive for Business, Dropbox for Business or SharePoint, which Microsoft describes as "clear enterprise scenarios" that require an Office 365 subscription. Free users will see these files in read-only mode.

Word

A few page layout options require an Office 365 subscription, including the ability to switch a document's orientation from portrait to landscape, and vice versa. Users of the free Word app are limited by default to portrait mode. If a paying subscriber sends them a document in landscape mode, it will be displayed correctly, but the free user won't be able to change it.

Organizing text into columns is also a premium feature. Free users will be able to edit text in columns in documents sent to them by a subscriber, but they won't be able to alter or eliminate the columns.

Also behind the paywall is the ability to insert section breaks into documents, such as next page, continuous and odd and even pages, although placing page breaks is a free feature.

Free users also can't accept nor reject changes made to a document as part of the track changes function, which also remains off limits to them when creating a document from scratch. In documents created by subscribers using track changes, free users do get access to the other features, such as seeing the changes log, making edits and adding comments.

Excel

The free Excel app users can't customize pivot tables, such as changing their style or layout, but they can interact with these tables by pivoting the data and refreshing the underlying spreadsheet.

PowerPoint

The free PowerPoint app lacks presenter view, which gives presenters a series of tools to assist them when giving their slide presentation in front of their audience.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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