One of the most interesting announcements at CES in January, OnLive Desktop, largely got lost in the noise of the annual gadget-fest in the desert. But this brainchild of online games wizard Steve Perlman is moving forward with an enhancement that brings superfast, full desktop browsing to the iPad.
OnLive desktop brings a Windows 7 virtual machine to the iPad. All of the code actually runs on servers in a data center; the tablet just displays screen images that are transmitted to it using the highly efficient adaptive algorithms that OnLine developed for its games service. The company is not quite ready to launch its $10-a-month Pro service that gives users a persistent Windows environment and the ability to add their own applications beyond Microsoft Word and Excel. As an intermediate step, it’s launching the $5 a month OnLive Desk Plus, which adds Internet Explorer to the base apps.
And what a browsing experience it is. It’s full desktop IE, free of all the restrictions of iPad Safari, as shown in the Flash-based Hulu.com image on the left. That look like a Windows desktop, but it is actually an iPad screenshot. If you;ve longs for Flash sites that have yet been turned into iOS-friendly apps, OnDesk Live Plus is your answer.
Not only does Flash play without the stuttering common on those mobile device that claim to handle the format, browsing is extremely fast. Even the notoriously slow loading page of Washingtonpost.com came up nearly instantly. The reason for this is simple. You are using a data center’s very fast internet connection. The impact is shown in the speed test screenshot below:
Of course, there is a fly in this ointment. You’re still running the mouse-and-keyboard centric Windows 7 on a tablet. Every time I need to use Microsoft’s onscreen keyboard, I wonder how a serious software company can force this decade-old monstrosity on users five years after Apple showed us how it is supposed to be done. Apple offers a context-sensitive keyboard that always has just the keys you need for the task at hand and generally appears and disappears on its own as needed. Windows depends on a keyboard that slavishly copies a desktop design and that must constantly be launched and stowed manually. If you’re going to do any serious amount of typing, you’ll want a hardware keyboard, but even that doesn’t solve the missing mouse problem and the difficulty of navigating Microsoft’s touch-hostile menus with your fingers.
As a result of Windows 7 touch deficiencies, I don;t think OnLive Desktop will really come into its own until Windows 8 (assuming that Microsoft delivers on its promise to make Win 8 work well with touch. Then you will be able to run full-fledge Office and other Windows applications as well on a tablet, an opportunity that will be very significant in the Office-dependent enterprise. If I were Citrix, I would be very worried.