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OnLive Desktop: Virtual Office Apps on Your iPad

With OnLive Desktop, you can run Microsoft programs, such as Word and Excel, that normally wouldn't work on an iPad.

By Yardena Arar
April 12, 2012 08:55 AM ET

PC World - OnLive Desktop uses technology developed for its parent OnLive gaming service, which lets you stream high-end video games (that you rent or purchase) to your PC in much the way you'd get an on-demand movie from Netflix. Instead of games, OnLive Desktop streams a virtual Windows desktop outfitted with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Adobe Reader, Internet Explorer, Windows Paint and Calculator, and Microsoft Surface Collage.

Like CloudOn, OnLive Desktop runs the applications on its servers, sending to its mobile apps only the data that Windows sends to a PC's graphics subsystem. That display data is tweaked to fit on the iPad or on an Android tablet screen. You simply install the OnLive mobile app and log in, and a Windows desktop appears.

In my tests on a new iPad, OnLive's expertise with streaming media showed to particular advantage in its version of Internet Explorer, which can capably display a lot of video that you either need a special app for--or can't get at all--on the iPad. ABC's show Missing looked great in OnLive Desktop (you have to get the ABC iPad app to see it otherwise), as did NBC's Saturday Night Live (NBC doesn't support the iPad at all). You can also create bookmarks that will reappear whenever you log in.

But the OnLive version of IE isn't perfect. It couldn't log me in to a Flash-based game (the connection dropped when I tried). I didn't run into that problem with the version of IE on the competing Nivio service. (OnLive says its version of IE can't run JavaScript, which may have been the issue.)

OnLive Desktop made no apparent effort to resolve problems involved in squeezing the Microsoft Office Ribbon onto the iPad's touchscreen display. Because some Ribbon icons are quite small, it's easy to tap the wrong one--an issue that CloudOn addresses by tweaking the Ribbon to enlarge icons (and, in at least one case, by creating a new tab to accommodate the overflow).

More annoyingly, OnLive Desktop's included 2GB of free file storage can be a hassle to use. The problem isn't on the iPad end of things--all documents you create or edit in OnLive Desktop automatically save to your OnLive Files folder, accessible in any browser when you log in to desktop.onlive.com. But if you want to work with a document on a PC, you must download it to the PC, and then upload it when you're done to make the new version available on the tablet. There's no equivalent to the Dropbox service that CloudOn uses, which automatically synchronizes documents saved to a folder on your hard drive. (In fact, you might be better off forgoing OnLive's storage and using Dropbox via IE.)

Reprinted with permission from PCWorld.com. Story copyright 2012 PC World Communications. All rights reserved.
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