This past week the on-demand cloud company OnLive introduced the latest product in their line up. OnLive Desktop Plus brings a full blown, cloud-based Microsoft Windows 7 experience to your iPad. And when I say “full blown”, I mean it. It is the complete Windows 7 touchscreen experience that allows you to navigate around the desktop, explorer and the Microsoft Office apps with ease. OnLive Desktop Plus is the first paid version of the service with other levels expected from OnLive in the coming months. I spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks using OnLive Desktop (and now Desktop Plus) and I have to say, I’m completely impressed. It is speedy and responsive and the new Plus level brings new features for browsing and file sharing.
To start, you will need to go to the OnLive Desktop website and create an account. The account itself is free as is OnLive Desktop. I recommend starting at this free level to determine if OnLive Desktop is a service you find useful. And I think this is a legitimate question. With so many good Office apps available for the iPad, such as my favorite QuickOffice, there is the question of if OnLive is really necessary. I think this really comes down to if you are a Windows PC user. If you are, navigating the Windows environment is likely more natural and easier than trying to navigate on the iPad. This is particularly try in using the included Microsoft Office apps in OnLive Desktop. With your free account comes access to Word, Excel and PowerPoint where you can create or edit files then save them in your Documents folder. That folder, which has 2GB of storage, is synchronized automatically and you can access these files from you Mac or PC from the OnLive Desktop website. This gives you the ability to work on them from anywhere on any device.
If you decide to go with the OnLive Desktop Plus level, which is $4.99 per month, you get several additional features over the free level. Most importantly you now have browsing access through Internet Explorer and you have access to your Dropbox files via the browser. This allows you to read files you have stored in Dropbox. Plus also brings you the ability to open web mail attachments (think GMail), 100Mbps browsing speeds and as a Plus subscriber you have priority access over non-Plus subscribers for OnLive access. Oh yes, did I mention Adobe Flash? That’s right iPad users, now you can view Flash websites via OnLive Desktop.
Once you have an account established at OnLive Desktop you need to get the iPad app from the App Store. Get OnLive Desktop here. This is how you will access the OnLive Desktop service. Currently iPad is the only way to access the service but apps for Android, iPhone, PC and Mac are slated to make an appearance soon. Start the app on your iPad, enter your credentials and you are brought to the OnLive Desktop. The key to the service is your Internet Connection. OnLive states that you need at least a 1Mbps connection to use the service and I found that to be the case in my testing. At home while on my WiFi network, my iPad had no issues given I have a 45Mbps fiber connection. However when I was traveling, hotel connections hover right around that 1Mbps threshold most of the time. On these slower connections the service was still usable but pixilation was a bit of a challenge sometimes.
When you see the OnLive Desktop you will see shortcuts to Word, Excel and PowerPoint as well as Internet Explorer and Adobe Acrobat Reader. Just tap one of them and they will open up and you can start working in it. You will also see the Documents folder which has an OnLive icon. This is where you store files by default so you can access them later from another device.
OnLive Desktop utilizes Windows 7 with Touchscreen capabilities. This is the exact same Windows version that the HP TouchSmart and Lenovo M90 series touchscreen PCs ship with to utilize their touchscreens. If you have not used Windows 7 in this way it does take a little getting use to but you will find it comes quite natural. Perhaps the biggest challenge is getting use to the Windows 7 soft keyboard which pops up when you are editing a document but that isn’t so hard either. My suggestion is to take your time and get use to the way this drives. For Mac users you will have a little more challenge than Windows users but not so much that it is frustrating.
OnLive has also locked down the service pretty tightly. This means that any changes you make to the desktop or shortcuts you add will not be saved and you will be back at the default layout the next time you log in. By doing this OnLive can assure a good experience for everyone which is a good thing. Based on their own website, I suspect that OnLive will give a little more freedom to users as they introduce new levels of service.
One of the advantages of the Plus service is that you can surf websites from the service while the free level limits you to where you can go on the Internet.
One of the biggest features of OnLive Desktop is the included Word, Excel and PowerPoint access. Essentially, with a free OnLive account, you have free Microsoft Office. It is stunning if you think about it. These are the full featured versions as well, not just readers. You can create documents easily within the apps – just like you do on your PC – then when they are saved to the Documents folder they are synchronized to the OnLive Desktop File site so you can access them from another computer. If you are a Plus subscriber you also have the ability to access your Dropbox account to access files you have stored there. By default you can read any file. If you want to actually edit a file you have to save a copy to your Documents in OnLive Desktop, edit the document, save it then move it back to Dropbox. It is a bit cumbersome and I’m hoping that this functionality is improved either at the Plus level or higher.
The future looks bright for OnLive Desktop. As I mentioned before, several apps are coming out to give you access to the service from devices other than the iPad. The next service level, OnLive Desktop Pro, is going to be released soon at $9.99 per month and bring all of the features of the Plus level with the ability install applications (although OnLive will tightly control this to assure malware isn’t uploaded) and 50GB of cloud storage.
OnLive Desktop is a unique and powerful productivity option for iPad users. If gives you full access to a Windows 7 desktop and Microsoft Office apps, allows you to share those files and at the Plus level access your Dropbox account. Also with the Plus level you can access Flash-based websites in the full version of Internet Explorer and priority access to the OnLive service. I highly recommend it!