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Office for iPad a pricy alternative to competitors

. By John Rizzo

Microsoft released Office for iPad last week to ovations by reviewers praising its interface and usability. But to call it "free," as some in the press have, justifies incredulity. The fact is, Office for iPad is the most expensive way to work with Office docs on an iOS device.

The free Office apps let you gaze adoringly at Office docs, but in order to edit or create Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents, Office for iPad requires a $100 per year (or $10/month) subscription to Microsoft's Office 365 cloud service. That's only a few bucks less than Amazon charges for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for Mac. The subscription gives you one year's use on five of your iPads, which Microsoft seems to think is the average user's stock of tablets. More likely, most users have one iPad that they'll use for 5 years, which will run you $500 for Office. If there are more expensive iPad apps, they must be on Donald Trump's tablet.

Office for iPad looks particularly pricy when you start comparing it to the other options, which are all now mature products. To start with, Apple offers a free solution that really is free on new iOS 7 devices. With iWork, you can import and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, and save files in Office formats. iWork also includes GarageBand, iMovie, and iPhoto. For older iPads, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are $10 each, not $10 per month.

DataViz' Documents to Go also lets you edit and create Word and Excel files for $10. A cloud-compatible version that adds the ability to edit PowerPoint goes for $17.

For $13, Polaris Office 5 provides Office editing capabilities, as well as integration with cloud services such as Dropbox if you need them. Again, no subscription required.

And, of course, there's Google Docs, which is free.

Given all that, will iPad users pay up for an official Microsoft logo? Apple says that iWork is "beautiful" (not an attribute that I'd associate with a word processor), but Apple's suite is not designed specifically as a Word, Excel, and PowerPoint editor. Office for iPad is. (Microsoft calls it "the Office you love," another term I don't associate with a word processor.)

Microsoft is probably betting that businesses will go for it, where the need for Office is the greatest and the support for the Microsoft brand is the strongest. Office for iPad also works with business plans for Office 365, which start at $60 per year for up to 25 users.

Maybe I'm just a cheapskate, but it goes against the grain to have a regular charge on my credit card, forever, for an iPad app. This kind of perpetual pricing -- a payment plan that never ends -- is not something that customers want (including businesses), but is something that they are being asked to accept.