Browser-Based iWork for iCloud Unlocks for Anyone with an Apple Account

They're still beta versions, but they're also still free.

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If you’ve been impatiently waiting for Apple to update the OS X version of its iWork productivity suite, well, keep waiting. But if you’re not allergic to composing or keynoting in a browser, you’re in luck: anyone can now, officially, fiddle with iWork for iCloud, so long as they have an Apple ID.

If that describes you, just hit up iCloud.com and — next to iCloud’s giant application icons like Mail and Calendar — you’ll now spy three new ones: Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Browser-wise, you’ll need at least Safari 6.0.3, Chrome 27.0.1 or Internet Explorer 9.0.8 (Mac or PC) to access the suite, says Apple.

We’re talking the same (well, in theory improved) versions developers have been tinkering with for months, all free. Make that beta free: These aren’t the final versions Apple’s planning to launch this fall, possibly in concert with whatever the company has up its sleeve hardware-wise. And what the company might or might not charge down the road for the suite is anyone’s guess at this point.

My colleague Harry McCracken offered his impressions of the suite earlier this month, noting that it’s the first time iWork’s ever been available on Windows or to Mac users who’d otherwise have to drop $20 a piece for Pages, Numbers and Keynote (or $10 each for the iOS versions).

If you use iWork for OS X daily, as I do, you’re familiar with Apple’s partial iWork shift to iCloud with Mountain Lion a little over a year ago. Think of iWork for iCloud as the other shoe dropping, or the other end of the tunnel being finished off. Prior to iWork for iCloud, if you composed a document in Pages, for instance, iCloud acted as a kind of online repository for your work — a way to save your document online, then access it across multiple Apple devices, say your iPad or iPhone, by launching the iOS version of Pages. That said, without the iWork apps (which cost money), your files were essentially locked away and useless.

iWork for iCloud remedies this by letting you access anything you’ve stored online using the client apps (in OS X or iOS), or creating new ones using Apple’s streamlined online editing tools: simplified versions of their client app analogues, but formidable enough to get the job done if you’re doing basic, light word processing, spreadsheeting or presentation-building.

The hypothetical backdoor move here? Enterprise, obviously. The browser remains the simplest, fastest way to bypass traditional platform adoption firewalls. Before iWork for iCloud, if a business wanted to adopt Apple’s software suite, it had to deploy OS X or iOS devices. Now it can approach iWork as it might any other array of browser-agnostic online tools, a choice Apple stands to make even more attractive if it keeps the iWork suite free.

Would the move encourage businesses that have already embarked on mixed-environment odysseys (vis-a-vis iPads and iPhones) to bolder platform-adoption moves? That’s pushing it, since feature-for-feature, Google Docs and Microsoft’s Office 365 have plenty of compelling features themselves. But for businesses already fond of Apple’s take on computing, or drawn to the nuances of iWork’s native versions on Macs, iPads or iPhones, the company’s business productivity allure just got a little sweeter.

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