OnLive Desktop - Windows on Your Tablet?

Category: Mobile

For a service that is only four months old as of this writing, OnLive Desktop has been through a lot of changes. First, it was Windows 7 on the iPad. Next, it was a "gigabit-accelerated" Web browser. Then it was a flagrant violation of Microsoft's licensing terms. Now it's an app that offers iPad and Android tablet users a PC desktop in the cloud. But how well does it really work? Let's take a look...

What is OnLive Desktop?

OnLive Desktop is the child of OnLive.com, a hosted gaming service that debuted in June, 2010. Games are rendered and stored on servers in OnLive's five U. S. data centers. The visual and audio data that users want, and their commands to the games, are transmitted via the Internet. Proprietary technology minimizes the amount of data that needs to be transmitted, making response times faster.

In adition to gaming, OnLive also claims some impressive features aimed at Windows users. OnLive Desktop promises a Windows desktop on your iPad or Android tablet, with access to Office applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It also touts "lightning-fast web browsing" and the ability to access Flash-based games and websites (which iPad lacks).
OnLive Desktop

The basic appeal is that you don't need a high-powered PC to run Office apps or play games really fast. And you can do so on your tablet. All of the CPU intensive data crunching, as well as the super-fast Internet access, takes place on the remote OnLive server. The server basically sends the screen image to your device, so you can interact with it on your screen.

The Evolution of OnLive Desktop

In January, 2012, OnLive put their remote gaming infrastructure to work virtualizing Windows 7, creating a desktop-as-a-service product that enabled iPad owners to access a Windows 7 environment. The first applications provided on Desktop were Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, plus Windows Media Player and a few minor utilities. A cloud storage space of 2GB was included. The service was free, although availability was not guaranteed. Apparently, Desktop users could be locked out in favor of paying gamers during busy times.

In February, OnLive Desktop Plus debuted with a five dollar monthly price tag. Paying customers got "priority access" to the Desktop network. They also got to use Internet Explorer 9 in addition to the freebie's Windows and Office apps. The OnLive marketers began to hype "gigabit-accelerated browsing," which turns out to be a bit misleading.

The IE 9 browser runs on OnLive's server, not on your tablet. The OnLive server is connected to the Internet via gigabit-speed pipes. So yes, when IE 9 downloads a file or Web page, the thing arrives super-fast. Proprietary video compression technology and built-in intelligence to minimize screen updates on your tablet is what provides the illusion of the "gigabit browsing" on your tablet.

But of course, everything that you receive from OnLive arrives no faster than your personal Internet connection will allow. And Desktop, it turns out, needs at least 2Mbps of bandwidth to work well. So it doesn't work well over 3G mobile data services (you'll need 4G) and it's been known to falter or refuse to connect even on WiFi networks with a strong signal.

Still, pundits were dazzled. Nobody had ever put Windows 7 on an iPad before! There's a reason for that: virtualizing Windows 7 violates Microsoft's licensing terms. After other desktop-as-a-service players cried foul, Microsoft started having quiet talks with OnLive, i. e., "Just what do you think you're doing, fellas?"

In early April, OnLive quietly switched to Windows Server 2008 R2, the officially sanctioned platform for offering virtual desktop services. Unfortunately, this change degraded the Desktop experience. Windows 7 includes touch optimization; Server 2008 does not. So using Desktop on a tablet is not as easy it used to be.

How Does it Work?

The company describes the OnLive Desktop Plus user interface like this: "Instant-response multi-touch gestures enable complete and convenient viewing and editing of complex documents… Video, animation, slide transitions and even PC games-never before practical via remote desktop delivery-run fluidly and dynamically with instant-action interactivity.

But one disappointed fan who described it as "clumsy, at best" planned to cancel his subscription to Plus. Some users with a stable broadband or wifi connection have reported that OnLive Desktop works well. One reviewer went so far as to say that his "iPad seemed to melt away" while watching TV shows on Hulu and playing Flash games. But there are still frequent complaints about inability to connect via wifi, stuttering screen updates, missed button presses, ignored right-clicks, and unreliable "drag & drop" functionality.

The moral of this story? Well, maybe it's that you shouldn't try to milk a bull. He just doesn't have what it takes. If you want Windows, Office apps and PC games, run them on a desktop or laptop PC as they were meant to be used.

That's just my opinion, of course. If you've had a good experience with OnLive Desktop, let me know! Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "OnLive Desktop - Windows on Your Tablet?"

Posted by:

Harold P. Morgan
27 Apr 2012

Sort of like installing a gas engine on a formerly horse-drawn buggy and calling it a car. No thanks. I will wait for Windows 8 powered tablets.

My wife has an iPad 3. I've got enough headaches just setting it up and trying to keep it running.


Posted by:

SHCA
27 Apr 2012

This seems like a great way for MS to take back the desktop on the new devices. I'm surprised they're not doing this themselves. Maybe they will?


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