Office workflow in a mixed environment
Written by
Chris Wright
December 5, 2018

I’m not quite sure how I’ve ended up here, but here we are, using Excel and Word to work on files stored in Google Drive and iCloud on an iPad Pro and a Surface Book 2. And, remarkably, it all works rather well.

File storage is mainly in Google Drive, we have GSuite for email and storage so that makes sense economically at least. I have several free, and one paid for (by a client as it happens), Microsoft accounts and I installed Excel and Word on the iPad and on the Windows laptop and logged in to my paid account. I did initially use a free account and as far as I could see it all worked just as well, but I need access to my client’s SharePoint anyway so it is easier to use that account.

I’ve installed the Google Drive app as well on iOS, and installed the G Drive sync app on Windows. I’ve also installed the iCloud sync app on Windows. That syncs pictures, contacts, and files. Finally I’ve installed the Microsoft OneDrive app on iOS to get access to my client’s SharePoint files using either that app or the Files app.

I’ve added my Google account as an account on iOS and told it to sync mail, calendars, contacts. I’ve added my domain hosted email account (which is hosted on GSuite) to the Mail app on iOS.

Now I can find a file in GDrive, iCloud or SharePoint/OneDrive, using the Files App on iOS or the Finder in Windows, or in my emails using the Mail app on iOS or the Gmail web interface in a browser in Windows, click on the file to open it in Excel or Word, edit it, save it in place, and share it as necessary. It is this editing in place, without copying the file to another location which is the breakthrough. That may seem like nothing to a non iOS user, but the way iOS has handled files in the past has been to make copies of them in the relevant app’s folder in iCloud, work on that and then have to manually save it back into the original place. The other recent breakthrough is the Files app itself, which allows me to add GDrive and OneDrive/SharePoint as a location (once I’ve installed the Drive and OneDrive apps) and then search and access folders and files stored there as easily as those on iCloud.

I have previously tried using Numbers and Pages instead of Excel and Word but, as is pretty common, most of my files originate from someone else emailing a file to me, and they are never, like absolutely never, numbers or pages files. I’ve literally never seen one in the wild. They are always Office format files. So I need to work on them in that format, or convert them twice every time I edit a file which I’m sharing with someone else. This is a shame as I actually like the iWorks apps a lot.

I have also, with rather more success, used Google’s efforts, Docs and Sheets. I have actually managed to work on these with someone else occasionally, the experience is really good, the sharing functionality is great, the apps are clean and easy to use. But, for 99% of the files I get to work on, and for 99% of the people I have to send files to, they have to be in Office formats – so again I’m in for multiple converting of formats if I want to use Google’s apps.

Hence the mixed setup I’m now using. In a sense I get the best of all worlds. It probably starts with email hosting. I’ve tried a few (FastMail most recently, Office365 before that) but for my use case Google simply does email better than anyone else. They host my domain name, which is essential and rules out iCloud as Apple don’t do that. The search is fast and reliable and easy. The uptime is 99.999% or thereabouts, so pretty reliable. The spam filtering is superb. I was astonished at the amount of spam, phishing etc, that I saw when I switched to FastMail for 3 months. And with a GSuite Business plan for £6.60 a month I get unlimited storage for emails and everything else.

That of course leads on to using Google Drive as the primary storage platform, unlimited storage included in the email hosting plan is pretty difficult to beat. Search across files (including their contents) is of course superb, Google knows a a bit about search after all.

And the third element, using Microsoft’s Office apps, is kind of forced on me by my client’s workflows. But actually this works really well in any case, as described above, the in place editing on iOS and Windows is excellent.

Of course with different hardware and OSes in play it may not be the best solution, I didn’t get on too well with a Chromebook for example as Office is not as well integrated with Chromeos and neither are the apps (Android or Chrome) as polished. On a Chromebook you really do want to use Google’s apps if you can.

But for me, for now, I’m impressed with Microsoft’s cross platform strategy and I’m using it to get the best out of the various tools available to me.

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