- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Forget the cant of computing purists: Something has changed in the space-time continuum and Microsoft Windows 7 now runs, quite happily, on an Apple iPad tablet.

A new service, OnLive Desktop, will put “as available” access to Microsoft Windows and these applications: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Adobe Reader, on your iPad for free. Pay $4.99 a month, and the “as available” part goes away; you get priority access to the OnLive system, as well as unlimited Internet Explorer Web access at what the firm calls “breathtaking” speeds. That means an iPad user can access a website running Adobe’s Flash animation software - something Apple banned from the iPad’s operating system - and have a blast doing it.

I know this, because I did it last week on a iPad 2 using a Wi-Fi connection. It was an impressive experience.

Other versions of OnLive Desktop are planned to let you add your own Windows applications, to work with enterprise computing systems, and even to run on desktop Macintosh computers and other tablet platforms. OnLive Inc., the company behind this, even says it will put Windows on your network-connected HDTV.

The firm says its “patented instant-action cloud gaming technology” is what brings Windows, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Web browser and the basic Microsoft Office components to the iPad so quickly. The OnLive firm, in a statement, put it this way: “Only the top layer of the currently visible part of a website is ever sent over the local connection. Essentially, OnLive Desktop delivers only what you can see or hear at a given moment, potentially reducing data usage by a factor of 10 or more.”

That’s a long way of saying this stuff is, well, wicked fast.

Now, that’s good for, well, gamers, and parents wanting to keep children entertained with the Disney website or some such. But it’s also rather good for those of us who need to interact with sophisticated websites related to jobs or studies or some such, or, for that matter, to be able to watch video more easily.

And there’s something else to all this: If you can “virtualize” Windows 7 and the main Office apps for the masses, renting it out, in effect, for $5 a month, where do you go from there? Could a company or federal agency set up their own OnLive cluster to handle computing, revising and updating applications when needed? Theoretically, yes.

Once the OnLive service extends to desktop Macs and Android tablets, as well as iPads, then ubiquity takes on a whole new meaning. Workers (and, I suppose, their managers) can more freely decide where to work, on what hardware, and how they like, all while retaining a level of connectivity and collaboration that would otherwise not be possible.

The business/enterprise applications for this are about as varied as the imaginations of the many potential users out there. This kind of a service - because it uses a lower amount of bandwidth than you might expect - can go further, and do more. When the boundaries of computing are pushed back, amazing things can happen.

As much potential as there is here, some caveats attach to that vista. The OnLive service must have Wi-Fi or 4G LTE cellular data - the latter not yet available on an iPad - to work. The applications are “rented,” which means you can’t customize Word to your personal style. Document storage is 2 gigabytes’ worth for the free accounts, more (via separate services such as Dropbox) on the “plus” account. A promised “Pro” version, $9.99 a month, will offer 50 gigabytes of free storage. And, again, you’re limited right now to some very basic applications.

Also, the experience of using your finger to point at, select, move and operate in Windows takes some getting used to. You can use a Bluetooth keyboard with OnLive’s Windows implementation, but not a mouse, which is something of a Windows necessity.

But the speed, beauty and raw power of OnLive Desktop Plus are, to me, worth a $4.99 per month investment. Given the right circumstances, I’d even go for the “Pro” version. This is an exciting harbinger of an even more exciting future. Find more information at https://desktop.onlive.com.

Email mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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