SysAdmin Thoughts: How Office365 Makes my iPad a great device at work

Photo taken at my favorite coffee shop

The endless debate around the iPad Pro has been whether or not it constitutes a computer. Apple’s “What’s a PC?” Ad a few years ago rubbed sand in the eyes of those opposed to the idea of the iPad being a considered a personal computer. The Magic Keyboard last year had a lot of people trying to give the iPad Pro life a go with various degrees of success and the iPadOS 15 changes to multitasking surely will spark up that debate again. I still use a Mac as my primary computer at work, but with our return to the office I am back to using the 27” iMac as my desktop in the office with the 11” M1 iPad Pro as my on-the-go computing device. In a lot of ways its a thin client for Office365, just powerful enough to keep me connected and able to do my job on the go, but not quite an experience that I would want to work solely from for 8+ hours a day. With the release of Windows365 the iPad comes a very interesting device, as an IT Pro I’ve had this concept for a couple of years in the sense that I have had a secure management PC that I regularly remote into to do my work since I use a Mac in a Windows-heavy environment. My particular college is about 50/50 split between MacOS and Windows 10, but the servers that we maintain are largely Windows with a splattering of Linux. On my iPad I use the following apps

Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams has been taking over for more and more work lately, namely as the first line of communication between myself and my coworkers. I regardless chat, share files, and attend meetings over Microsoft Teams. The Teams app is always on my dock.

Microsoft OneNote: I go back and forth between Apple Notes and OneNote. I like how Apple-native feeling Apple Notes is, but since I do have to share notes with coworkers, I often end up taking notes in OneNote. I particularly love the Apple Pencil support on it, as well as the ability to mix media types in the same note like its a notebook. I can take a photo or scan of a whiteboard and then mark over that with my pencil. I can copy and paste some data from a PowerPoint slide or Excel spreadsheet directly into OneNote and just draw on top of that. The cross-nature of OneNote makes it an excellent choice for working with my coworkers on brainstorming ideas or mapping out projects. I feel like one of the strengths of the 11” iPad Pro is its strength as a tablet, the size is just the perfect size for somebody who is used to taking notes on a spiral notebook.

Microsoft Remote Desktop: I use this to log into my secure management box to access Active Directory, Group Policy, and other internal tools that are not native to either the Mac or iPadOS. It works particularly well with the Magic Keyboard, and the 11” iPad is just big enough that I feel like I can get enough work done in a pinch. I do wish that Apple would introduce proper multiple monitor support though. Having multi-monitor Remote Desktop would be a pretty sweet solution or simply being able to have a secondary app on an external display would be pretty great. If I’m having to reference something in 1Password or another screen I end up doing the old using my iPhone as a secondary computer method. Lame, but it gets the job done. I do use side over from time to time for Teams chat or peaking at OneNote notes…I imagine the 13” iPad would be better in this regard.

Microsoft Office: I end up using the Microsoft Office app, as in the universal binary a lot more than I expect. I don’t do a ton of heavy office work on my iPad since as I’m a system administrator so oftentimes its just referencing a spreadsheet or editing a Word document. For me, having the one app is great in the sense that the start screen shows me all of my recently edited documents and not just a certain file type.

Microsoft Lists: This app is rapidly starting to replace Microsoft Excel and SharePoint online lists for myself and my coworkers. I have a several maintenance spreadsheets that have been converted to Microsoft Lists and its been great for myself and my student workers to keep track of things. Data input is much easier in Microsoft Lists with the iPad app over just using Excel…there is a lot less pinching and zooming and then there is the added benefit of being able to add attachments to the List item such as images or file attachments.

Microsoft Edge: Yeah, I know it’s technically WebKit underneath, but the tab syncing works between my Mac and my iPad really well and it seems to work better with Microsoft’s Azure and Endpoint Manager portal…its definitely that case on the Mac at least. So I have ended up using Edge on my iPad a lot more because of the syncing between my Mac and iPad and using it as my work web browser.

Apple Mail: I do use Microsoft Outlook on the iPad and when I really need to search something out I use the Outlook client, but I’m still a Mac user at heart so I like the Apple Mail experience just a little bit more since it feels nature to the platform. The consistency between MacOS, iPadOS, and iPhone are really useful. I find myself using Outlook for iPad/iPhone more and more lately. I guess one thing that holds me back is I’m still warming up to Outlook for the Mac. Its getting better, but it still doesn’t handle stuff like Gmail or iCloud as well as I would like. I’m not opposed to using Outlook for the Mac, but for me, it still has a little more work to go. But ignore my weirdness of wanting email client symmetry between my devices, Outlook for iPad is fantastic and I highly recommend it.

Fantastical: Fantastical is the app that I live and die by the most across Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch. I use the app heavily across all platforms and the feature parity between the Mac and iPad is supremely useful. The Microsoft Teams integration that lets you 1-click join a meeting or with a single toggle turn a meeting into a Teams Meeting I find very useful, particularly on iPadOS. Fantastical also has excellent widgets and complication support across Apple platforms and lets you intermix your personal calendars + reminders with your work reminders, including support for Exchange tasks, which will sync over to Microsoft To Do if you like to use a dedicated client to organize your tasks.

At the end of the day, the iPad does not replace the Mac for me, but I do find it an excellent satellite device for my much more capable general purpose computer. The battery life, portability, and speed to get productive on the iPad is far superior to the Macs that I use.Maybe if I went with a M1 Macbook Air I could get there, but I would end up topping that thing out pretty quickly since it tops out at 16GB of RAM currently and virtualizing Windows 10 and MacOS for MDM policy/app deployment testing is still really taxing on consumer hardware. I also find the iPad Pro the best conference computer when we use to go to those before COVID, especially with the Apple Pencil. Speaking of which, the Apple Pencil is fantastic in the Microsoft Office apps for marking up documents when you are reviewing them or signing PDFs (Which I do a lot every month when it comes time to reconcile my purchase card). Overall, I’m very happy with the iPad Pro and have grown more so over the last couple of years with the better multitasking and Magic Keyboard. I’m itching to play with iPadOS 15 this fall and its taking all of my self-control to not install the betas on what is otherwise my most stable computer in my life. I think that if you go into your relationship with the iPad with all of this in mind and the Microsoft Office365 suite, you can have a really flexible, useful, and delightful device to use.

IT Support Specialist V and Spring Hill College graduate who loves all things tech. If it has a flashing LED it has my immediate attention.