The basic version of OnLive Desktop is already available, which leverages OnLive’s streaming video technology to let an iPad connect to a remote server running Windows. The idea is to give iPad owners access to native Microsoft Office products, and later expand this access to other devices (tablets and PCs alike). So without actually buying a personal copy of Microsoft Office, you can access a copy on OnLive’s servers, and thanks to fast video streaming technology, it’s almost as though you’re running it locally.
We tried out the OnLive Desktop when it was first released,1 and were impressed by its snappiness and image quality. The technology used in this app is based off the video streaming technology OnLive has worked on for its gaming product, which streams video of PC games. For us, the Desktop streaming worked much better than traditional OnLive streaming, though both perform well considering everything’s remote. Unfortunately, there’s not much to do on OnLive Desktop yet, unless Microsoft Office apps are what you need. The free OnLive Desktop app gives you 2GB of cloud storage (proprietary to OnLive), which you can access via a web browser, too. There aren’t any other apps on the system, however.
Fortunately, that should change with the release of OnLive Desktop Pro, which runs $9.99/month and, in addition to more cloud storage, gives you access to more PC apps. It’s not yet clear whether these are pre-installed apps or if OnLive will somehow white-list or black-list apps that can or can’t be installed, but there’s a lot of potential here that we hope OnLive takes advantage of. Here’s our list of wants for this service:
Hopefully, OnLive Desktop Pro will not limit users to a set number of pre-installed apps. That’s because we can’t envision most apps that OnLive curators choose to be very appealing, as most of our daily computing tasks are already met. This means that the apps we would want to see are likely very niche, so we’d sooner see OnLive implement a black-list of apps that can’t be installed than a small list of apps that can. For example, OnLive would obviously ban malware, as well as apps that simply don’t make sense for the service, like Steam.2 P2P apps, porn, et al would likely be part of such a blacklist as well.
OnLive’s cloud solution may work for some people, but since it’s not integrated with other apps we use, it’s a bit extraneous. We’d sooner see integration with Dropbox, which works with an enormous number of apps. If such integration isn’t native, then Dropbox will hopefully still be an approved add-on.
Fast-app switching is a must for OnLive Desktop. Right now, if you leave the app and switch back, you have to connect to the service all over again. We’d sooner see the connection maintained for a short amount of time, such that we can perform a task in another app and return to OnLive Desktop without delay. We have this same problem with Splashtop Remote, and it’s a real workflow obstruction.
Windows is nice and all, but how about OS X access? A virtual OS X desktop instead of a Windows one would be super-helpful for many, especially those clinging on to their Macs just for one or two apps. It’d also be great for those seeking to develop on the Mac/iOS/iBookstore, but don’t readily have a Mac handy because their main development is for Windows/Android/ePub.
The possibilities are huge if these things are integrated, and not just for hobbyists. Developers could work on apps for a given platform without buying a dedicated machine, being able to access remote IDEs and compilers for platforms they don’t already own. We’d love to tinker with mobile development, but don’t relish the idea of buying a computer just for that purpose, as we’re able to do everything else with our iPad. At $9.99/month, it”d totally be worth the $119.88/year for easy access to a virtual development box, and I doubt we’re alone in that boat.
Protip: if you can’t get in to OnLive Desktop because you don’t have an account, use a “normal” OnLive account, and you should get right in. There’s no waiting list for the basic OnLive service, so you won’t need to wait to get through the Desktop account queue. ↩
Steam would be awesome to have, but not only does it compete with OnLive’s own gaming offering, but the servers running OnLive Desktop probably won’t be equipped with stunning 3D hardware anyway, so Steam would be wasted here. ↩