Apple quietly launches iWork for iCloud public beta

Anyone with an iCloud account can try the Web-based apps that are free for now

Apple today quietly opened the free beta of iWork for iCloud to everyone with iCloud log-on credentials.

The suite -- Web-based versions of Pages, Numbers and Keynote, which collectively make up iWork -- debuted in June at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference.

Registered developers immediately received access to the beta. Since then, Apple slowly added some of the public to the beta test through emailed invitations.

Apple did not reply to a request for confirmation today that the iWork for iCloud preview was available to all, but Computerworld was able to access the apps using several different non-developer iCloud accounts which had not previously received invitations from Apple.

The beta supports three browsers: Apple's own Safari, Google's Chrome and Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE). Apple has promised to expand the list, presumably to Mozilla's Firefox and Opera Software's Opera, both of which run on Windows and OS X.

Most analysts believe Apple will give away iWork for iCloud to iPhone, iPad and Mac owners, just as it does iCloud itself, as another way to entice customers into buying the Cupertino, Calif. company's hardware. Another reason they've cited: The competition, including Google Docs and Microsoft's Office Web Apps, is also free.

Not everyone has agreed.

Some have suggested Apple may tie the Web apps to the existing iWork on iOS and OS X. On those platforms the three apps are sold for $9.99 (iOS) or $19.99 (OS X) each. Apple's plan to upgrade OS X's iWork this fall has also lent credence to the tie-in theory.

If those pundits are correct, iWork for iCloud would be available only to those who own the iOS or OS X software. That model would be similar to Microsoft's, which offers select Office apps on the iPhone and Android smartphones only to customers with an active Office 365 subscription.

Although today's timing was a bit surprising -- previously, Apple said that the beta would go public "this fall" -- the company has yet to schedule a final release date or clarify whether it will charge for the apps, and if so how much.

iCloud account holders -- anyone who owns an iOS device or OS X-powered Mac -- can access the betas of Pages, Numbers and Keynote by logging into icloud.com with their username and password.

Anyone with an iCloud account may now try the beta of iWork for iCloud. The three apps -- Pages, Numbers and Keynote -- are flagged with 'beta' labels.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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