Sport & Auto
- About Future
- Digital Future
- Cookies Policy
- Terms & Conditions
- Investor Relations
- Contact Future
While Parallels and VMware duke it out on the desktop for Windows virtualization supremacy, competitors are skipping the computer entirely and creating innovative ways for transporting the PC experience onto the iPad. The latest comes from cloud-gaming pioneer OnLive, which utilizes its expertise in the field to bring us OnLive Desktop, a free, touch-based Windows 7 app.
OnLive Desktop is a mere 4.8MB download from the App Store, but the heavy lifting is done via a 1Mbps or better Internet connection. Sign up for a free OnLive account on the company's website (it can’t be done in-app) or use an existing OnLive gaming login, and in about 10 seconds you'll be staring in delight at a landscape-only Windows 7 desktop, complete with preinstalled Microsoft Office.
Although I've been impressed by OnLive’s cloud games in the past, I wasn't quite expecting OnLive Desktop to be as fast and fluid as it actually is. At its core, the app is essentially a VNC client; but instead of controlling a PC on your home network, it's utilizing a custom installation of Windows 7 located on the company's servers. Included are full, touch-based versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as familiar Microsoft staples like Windows Media Player and Notepad.
OnLive has implemented a Windows 7 Touch Pack to bless Desktop with the powers of touch, including text entry from either a software-based keyboard (with optional extended keys and three docking methods) or handwriting recognition. Users can easily switch between modes with a tap, and while the handwriting recognition feature did recognize most of my chicken-scratch entry, it's a much slower method and largely a cool gimmick for now.
The app is fun to use, but can be used to actually get work done as well. Each OnLive account includes 2GB of cloud storage for syncing files uploaded via web browser to your Documents folder, and files can also be downloaded with a click. We can't imagine writing The Great American Novel this way, but OnLive Desktop comes in handy for revisions to a Word document or Excel spreadsheet, or last-minute additions to a PowerPoint presentation. Windows Media Player can even play movie files – complete with sound – at a nearly real-time frame rate.
This early version of OnLive Desktop does have some notable niggles, however. There are no printing capabilities (cloud or otherwise), nor a way to use an external keyboard or mouse; plus, you can't install other PC apps, though that's promised for the future $9.99/month Pro upgrade, which will offer 50GB of storage. You also have to sign in for every session – even if you jump into another app for a mere moment – which is a minor nuisance.
The bottom line. OnLive Desktop made me a believer in a cloud-based future. From almost anywhere with a decent broadband connection, iPad users can gain access to a totally free Windows 7 and Microsoft Office install, which is huge. Touch still feels awkwardly shoehorned onto Windows for now, but if OnLive upgrades to Windows 8 later this year, iPad users could wind up with the best of both worlds.
iPad running iOS 4.3 or later
Windows 7 and Microsoft Office absolutely free on your iPad. Extremely responsive touch controls for cloud-based app. Free 2GB of storage for moving files between Mac/PC and OnLive servers.
Doesn't utilize iPad's built-in keyboard. Handwriting recognition is a bit cumbersome. No printing or external hardware. Switching apps means signing in again.