OnLive Hosted VDI Service Enables Windows 7 Desktop on iPads

NEWS ANALYSIS: iPad users will now be able to run a full version of Windows 7 along with Word, Excel and PowerPoint, thanks to OnLive's hosted virtual desktop infrastructure service announced Jan. 10 at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show.

Best known for online game delivery, cloud services provider OnLive announced that it is offering a hosted implementation of Windows 7 for the iPad. Designed to run in the cloud as a virtual desktop, the OnLive Desktop uses virtualization technology to create a remotely hosted Windows 7 desktop.

The technology, introduced Jan. 10 at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, differs from other remote control services in the fact that OnLive provides the hosted machine, whereas services such as LogMeIn, GoToPC and others allows iPad users to gain remote control over a PC that they own.

OnLive Desktop is available initially at no charge; however, it is limited to running just a few Windows applications on the hosted desktop. The free version, which can be downloaded from the iTunes app store, requires basic registration on OnLive's Website.

The free version will include 2GB of online storage and access to Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The 2G of free online storage will be represented as a folder on the desktop and will not be used for the OS or applications, proving to be a generous amount of storage for documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

OnLive is also planning to launch a "Pro" version of the OnLive Desktop, which will cost $9.99 per month and offer 50GB of storage and a full Windows 7 desktop implementation, allowing the installation of applications and additional customization. The Pro version also offers enhanced performance, thanks to application acceleration technology.

Plans are in the works to offer an enterprise version of the service as well, which will include group management, administrative controls, extensive customization capabilities and support for platforms other than the iPad. According to OnLive, the enterprise service will run on Android, PC, Mac and monitors/TVs that can run the company's MicroConsole thin client.

The release of OnLive Desktop has some far reaching implications, especially for iPad users who are considering purchasing productivity applications, such as Apple's own Pages application, which retails for $9.99, or other word processing, office suite or productivity applications. It may be pretty hard for those applications to compete against a free offering such as OnLive Desktop. On the other hand, those alternative office suites can run in a disconnected mode, meaning that users can edit documents, spreadsheets or presentations while offline.

The Pro and Enterprise versions of OnLive Desktop have some additional implications for the bring your on device (BYOD) market, where IT managers can now provide employees with an account on OnLive Desktop. This will allows users to bring their own devices into the office or be able to access a corporate desktop from anywhere, without the IT department having to provision and deploy a physical piece of hardware.

I gave the free version of OnLive Desktop a quick try, and I found it to be an adequate alternative to other office-type applications on the iPad. Performance was snappy, and it was quite easy to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations using the included Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications.

Nevertheless, I found the touch-screen and handwriting recognition support less than ideal, especially when it comes to typing with the on-screen keyboard. However, I quickly solved that problem by using a Bluetooth keyboard instead of the on-screen one.

At a price that can't be beat-free-it is definitively worth giving the OnLive Desktop a try to see if it can meet your basic office productivity needs. If it does, the Pro version may be worth the monthly fee for a fully functioning desktop that is available wherever you have an Internet connection.