OnLive's train wreck: Office on the iPad

The OnLive Desktop service shows just how wrong desktop virtualization can be

Demos, like appearances, can be deceiving. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, one of the media hits was OnLive Desktop, a service that provisions a Windows 7 desktop environment that includes Microsoft Office 2010 to the iPad over an Internet connection. For many, the idea of being able to run the full Office suite is very appealing, given some of the limitations of the iPad's native office productivity tools such as Apple iWork suite (Pages, Keynote, and Numbers), Quickoffice, and Documents to Go.

But the reality of OnLive Desktop is awful. Yes, you get the full Windows 7 desktop and the full Word, PowerPoint, and Excel applications. But a surprising lack of integration means the Windows and iPad environments remain almost completely separate, with usability falling through the cracks.

[ See InfoWorld's picks for the best iPad office productivity apps. | Updated for iOS 5, Android 4, BlackBerry OS 7, and Windows Phone 7.5: Learn how to manage mobile devices in InfoWorld's 20-page Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF special report. ]

The remote desktop never felt so remote. You can't copy and paste text or images between Windows and iOS, or even upload files to your OnLive Desktop from the iPad. You lose your session if you switch to another iPad application. In-progress work is saved to temp files in your OnLive cloud-based account folder, where all your files are stored, so at least you don't lose those efforts. But leaving OnLive Desktop to, say, check your email requires logging into OnLive Desktop again and reopening the file when you return. 

You can't use the iPad's native onscreen keyboard with OnLive Desktop either, just the too-small-to-type-on Windows 7 onscreen keyboard, whose poor design makes it float above whatever you are working on, requiring constant pushing around the desktop. And you can't use basic gestures like zoom, which is a big problem because OnLive's Windows desktop is too big for the iPad's screen resolution, causing it to be shrunk to fit and making everything tiny and unreadable. (I had to use reading glasses.) There are no UI controls for OnLive Desktop in the app nor in the OnLive Desktop section of the iPad's Settings app. Worse, the OnLive Desktop's Windows environment has no Control Panel, so you can't use Windows' own UI customization capabilities to change the display settings.

The only iPad capabilities you can use are fingers to access Windows 7's limited gesture capabilities, a finger or stylus to conduct mouse movements within Windows apps, and an external Bluetooth keyboard to type with. You can use an iPad's Bluetooth keyboard but not the iPad onscreen keyboard.

Test Center Scorecard
OnLive Desktop for iPad6555



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