OnLive continued to push the envelope on Monday, expanding its cloud offerings from gaming to a free, virtual Microsoft Windows 7 desktop plus Office apps, that it will make available to tablet users for free.
And, in doing so, OnLive may have stolen a bit of thunder from Microsoft and its own Windows 8-on-tablets initiative.
The OnLive Desktop app, launched at the Consumer Electronics Show here, will initially be made available just to Apple iPad owners, but will be expanded to other platforms over time, including Android tablets, phones, plus Macs and Windows PCs – even TVs. The free version of the app includes 2 Gbytes of cf cloud storage, while OnLive Desktop Pro, due soon, will include 50 Gbytes of cloud storage for $9.99 per month. Signups for the app will begin Monday, but a public release will be published Thursday after the company has a better idea of what the server load will be, a spokeswoman said.
OnLive will also bundle a cloud-based Web browser that the company feels that will render Web pages significantly faster than the tablet’s own built-in browser, given that the OnLive servers are closely tied to the Internet’s backbone.
OnLive has proven that it can handle the graphics- and latency-intensive demands of cloud gaming, streaming some of the latest PC titles to PCs, phones, TVs, and tablets. Users play the game as they normally would with either a keyboard or joystick, and the individual commands are sent back over a broadband network to an array of OnLive servers, hosted in three locations within the United States and one in Europe. OnLive and the game then renders the resulting game frames and streams them back to the client device, with virtually imperceptible latency.
For OnLive, therefore, rendering a Windows 7 desktop is basically child’s play. According to Joe Bentley, in charge of engineering and product for OnLive, the company has licensed Windows and a basic Office suite from Microsoft – Word, Excel, and PowerPoint – and users should basically have the experience of working on a Windows PC while in a tablet or other environment. Thanks in part to the company’s recently launched tablet gaming app, OnLive Desktop users can either use a Bluetooth keyboard or the iPad keyboard itself, navigating via touch.
The drawback, of course, is that the device must be connected to the Internet to access the virtual Windows environment. However, OnLive’s entrance may pose a challenge for other virtual Windows environments, such as Citrix. OnLive may also threaten WebEx with its spectator feature – a holdover of its gaming technology – which permits other users to replicate the Windows virtual desktop on their own screens. Using this feature, users can conduct their own PowerPoint presentations or demonstrate a Web app.
For its part, Microsoft is expected to talk more about Windows 8, which is also designed to run on tablets, including those using the ARM processor. Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has a keynote here on Monday evening.
Bentley didn’t have an exact list of what plugins and features OnLive’s new browser will include, but he said Flash will be built in, as well as HTML 5 capability. Like the Amazon Fire’s Silk browser, the OnLive browser claims to offer much faster Web access than the normal Android or iPad. In OnLive’s case, that’s because of the highly-optimized network that its service uses.
OnLive also plans to launch OnLive Enterprise, available for businesses and organizations of all sizes plus independent software vendors seeking to deliver custom applications, the company said. With the deployment, an IT administrator maintains control of the applications and privileges that users are allowed, and no data is stored on the device.