Price: Free ($4.99 monthly subscription for Plus access)
Version Reviewed: 1.01
Device Reviewed On: iPad 2
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OnLive Desktop has been around for a few weeks now, offering users access to several Microsoft Office apps through a Windows 7 sandbox with cloud storage on OnLive's servers for free. Now the premium services to use with the app are beginning to roll out; first up is Plus service for $4.99 per month, which enables access to a Flash-capable web browser (though it is Internet Explorer), though the ability to install other apps is not yet available - this will require Pro service, which will cost $9.99 a month. I took the Plus service for a spin to see if adding web browsing would make OnLive Desktop a must-have utility for the iPad.
OnLive Desktop's performance is a screamer on a speedy internet connection: there is some input lag for typing at times, and occasional artifacting as the screen scrolls, but nothing too bad. It worked well at home and at a Starbucks, but not via 3G tethering. It is perfectly usable for browsing the web and working with its Office applications. But here is where OnLive Desktop may be at its most impressive: Flash video works, and is completely watchable. I watched a show on Hulu through OnLive Desktop just as if I was watching it on my own computer, without needing Hulu Plus. All in all, it is conceptually like using a computer on the iPad.
The real issue with OnLive Desktop is the same issue that all remote computer control apps have: the way we interact with tablets is different than how we interact with computers with mice. Text, scrolling, and item selection just do not work as well because the OS and its apps are not designed to be properly used with a touchscreen. The software keyboard can be best described as terrible to use; a Bluetooth keyboard works much better, but there are still some commands that like the tab key that do not work. The app does not support multitasking, making it easy to lose a session when a notification comes in, or the desire to use another app hits. As a minor inconvenience, the Plus service has to be signed up and paid for outside of the app, there are no in-app subscription options. The service isn't available on non-iPad platforms at the moment either.
For those wanting to turn their iPad into a glorified laptop with a remote computing app, keep dreaming. It is very usable, but very imperfect. The problem with trying to bring the desktop to tablets is that it fills holes in the experience, but creates new ones that are not easy to fill because of the innate differences between tablet interfaces and computer interfaces.