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Apple moves to edge out Microsoft Office and Google Drive

One of the major aspects of Apple’s announcements yesterday of new iPads and MacBooks was some pure software news: Apple is going to make the three apps in the iWork productivity suite — Pages, Numbers, and Keynote — free to those buying new Apple hardware. Those with existing licenses will be able to upgrade for free, while those in the middle — existing hardware and no existing license — will have to pay the $10 for each app.

This is Apple stepping up its knife fight with Microsoft and Google in the document wars.

Until recently, users had to pay for Apple’s document tools, and for some, the $10 entry fee seemed too much when you could edit a Word doc on Google Docs, or you had an ancient version of Word.

But now all three competitors have rolled out versions of a file sync-and-share capability, and Apple stepped up yesterday with a giant step forward: co-editing.

I can open a document on my Mac with the new version of Pages, make some changes, add a comment, and invite someone else to edit with me:

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Here’s the doc with a comment (that turns out to be important).

And here’s how it looks on my iPhone.

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Note that the comment is there.

However, when I view it on iCloud, no comment. It’s the same file, but comments aren’t yet supported.

Screenshot 2013-10-23 13.03.15

So, Apple only has two social capabilities implemented — sharing and comments — and the comments are not support in iCloud. Ugh. This is particularly bad because Apple made the sensible decision to allow sharing via browser without requiring others to sign up for iCloud or have a version of the app. But in that case, there is no way for users to share comments, unless they embed them as text in the file.

I presume they will quickly remedy this. I also hope they will implement outside-the-file comments, so that users can create document-wide comments without selecting text. These could be shown in the right margin where other panels are now displayed.

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A ‘Show Comments Panel’ button could be supplied, for example.

At present, the solution is barely adequate for those using the OS X and iOS apps, but fails in the iCloud case. Still, Apple is showing where they’re headed, and putting pressure on Microsoft on the price side of things. Today, an Office user must buy Office or signup for Office 365 to get access to Word, even if sharing is supported for free in Skydrive.

Also worth noting that the upgrade to Mavericks is free: the first free version of Mac operating system software since 1991’s System 7. That leaves Microsoft as the only company charging for an operating system.