Friday, March 23, 2012

Track Changes and CloudOn

Much of my job benefits from the use of "track changes." When I work with students in my clinic, I find that track changes is a useful way of providing the students with meaningful feedback on their work as well as ensuring that my changes are incorporated directly into the document (balancing the need to get work done for clients within real-world deadlines with effectively teaching students how to do that work). When I work with colleagues around the world on issues related to my practice of international environmental law, track changes is a convenient means of sharing suggestions and evolving a document into a consensus-based reflection of joint work.

Because I travel often for work, I was most excited about using the iPad as a light, easy-to-use laptop substitute, but as I started exploring document production apps, I became concerned that most apps do not support the use of track changes. As I began to research apps that might support track changes, I was quite discouraged . . . until I found a blog posting from a lawyer who blogs about using his iPad in his practice. He suggested using CloudOn but noted that he had not fully explored it.

I immediately downloaded CloudOn for free. You can find it here, along with screen shots of the app at work. CloudOn supports Microsoft word, Powerpoint, and Excel, and as far as I can tell, allows a pretty full range of tools in each program, including track changes! CloudOn works as (obviously) a cloud-based document storage tool and it integrates with Dropbox so that when you get a document by email or have a document on your computer that you want to work on from your iPad you can either open it or download it with CloudOn from your email, which automatically puts it in your Dropbox files, or upload it directly to Dropbox from your computer.

Once your document is in Dropbox, you can open it through CloudOn and begin manipulating it. As suggested, I primarily used track changes in a Word document in my trial run. I ran into a few things that could use updating/revisiting in an updated version. First, I found it really difficult to multitask while using CloudOn. I am currently at an meeting where I have been following an agenda, taking notes, checking email, and working on a document with track changes. I have found that each time I click back to CloudOn to access my track changes document, I have to wait a few seconds and then sometimes also reopen the document which takes time. Moreover, sometimes the document reloads at the beginning of the document, instead of where you left off and scrolling through the document involves some delay, which can be tiresome. My final concern is that using CloudOn with track changes appeared to drain my battery more quickly than other apps. I have, for the most, found the battery to last quite a while, but using CloudOn I was draining it much faster than I have in the past.

There are a couple of really great features as well. For example, the document is continually saving the most recent version to Dropbox, so you do not have to worry about having to continually save as you move through various apps or as you move between your iPad and your computer. I should also mention that you can also use the comment feature to insert comments throughout a document. While not perfect, I enjoyed being able to use track changes from my iPad and I believe that it will significantly increase my productivity when I travel or would otherwise choose to use my iPad instead of my computer.

Given what appears to be a lack of options, I highly encourage folks interested in using track changes on their iPad to download CloudOn. I'd also be happy to hear in the comments if others have worked with other apps that support the use of track changes.

- Erica

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