If you find that your iPad is becoming more than just an entertainment device and something you are actually using to get work done, then you might want to give OnLive Desktop a whirl. This free app provides a cloud-based Windows 7 PC, letting you create and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. Most impressively, the app delivers a virtual Windows 7 environment and these three core Office apps without requiring any previous Microsoft purchase. Also, the app requires nothing in the way of setup beyond signing up for a free OnLive account.
Along with the app’s simplicity comes a few limitations, such as the inability to open docs in your Dropbox account or any doc not previously uploaded to OnLive Desktop’s sync folder. And you won’t find Internet Explorer or any other Web browser, though iPad users need only to exit the app and launch Safari to browse the Web. For its intended utility of letting you manipulate basic Office apps on the iPad, OnLive Desktop works well.
If the name OnLive sounds familiar, it’s because this app comes from the same folks who pioneered cloud gaming with the OnLive gaming service, which is available for Android tablets now and coming soon for iOS. For this business app, OnLive simply stripped away the games and granted access to the Windows desktop.
Setup and Interface
Before you can use the app, you will need to sign up for an OnLive account. When you launch the app, you’ll need to log in with your username and password. You can check a box for the app to remember your information, but the app requires you to hop through the sign-in screen each time you launch it. OnLive describes the app’s access as “as available,” and I was occasionally denied access during the course of this review. Subsequent attempts after an initial denial were, thankfully, almost always successful.
Once you’ve logged in to OnLive Desktop, you’ll see a sparse Windows 7 desktop. Along the left side of the screen are desktop icons for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, along with the Recycle Bin and a Getting Started PowerPoint file. Along the right are three icons: a shortcut for your synced documents, a Windows 7 Touch Pack folder with three touch games and Surface Collage, and a Samples folder with music, photo, video, and Office files. Along the bottom of the screen is the Windows 7 task bar with shortcuts to the three Office apps, the keyboard, Surface Collage, Paint, sticky notes, and the calculator. Windows Media Player is also on board for playing music or video files, and Windows Photo Viewer takes care of your photo-viewing needs. And that’s about it. You can’t install any new applications, you can’t change the wallpaper, and you won’t find standard Windows items such as the Control Panel.
OnLive Desktop supports multi-touch gestures, but only in certain spots. For example, you can pinch to zoom and rotate images using the Surface Collage application and the Windows Photo Viewer, but you can’t reverse pinch on the calculator to increase its size to make tapping its keys easier. You can initiate a right-click either by the one-finger tap-and-hold method or by doing a quick tap-and-hold with one finger and then tapping with a second finger. And unlike in standard (non-touch) Windows 7, to launch an app or open a document or folder with OnLive Desktop requires not a double click, but a single tap.
The three Office apps — Word, Excel, and PowerPoint — are fairly easy to use, but for lengthy Word docs or expansive Excel sheets, you’ll want to employ a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. OnLive Desktop uses the Windows onscreen keyboard, which I find isn’t nearly as easy to type on as the standard iPad keyboard. To improve the Windows onscreen keyboard, I suggest you trade out the default Float setting, which gives you a small keyboard you can drag around the screen. Tap the Tools menu option at the top of the keyboard and then choose Docking > Dock at the bottom of the screen. This will give you a keyboard that runs from edge to edge, with slightly larger keys than the floating keyboard.
OnLive Desktop uses the cloud and doesn’t store any files on your iPad. With the free account, you get 2GB of online storage space (a Pro account is coming soon that will cost $9.99 a month and provide 50GB of space, the ability to add additional Windows applications, Web browsing, and priority access – iPhone and Android versions are also in the works). Any document you save is stored on OnLive’s servers, which you can access from the Documents folder on the desktop of OnLive Desktop.
OnLive Desktop should not be confused with a remote desktop app. You can’t, for instance, access any files you haven’t already uploaded to OnLive. OnLive’s Web client makes easy to upload files from any Internet-connected Mac or PC, but if you forget to upload a file, you won’t be able to get to it from your iPad. Also, OnLive Desktop does not support iOS’s Open In feature, which prevents you from using OnLive Desktop to open any documents saved via Dropbox or another iOS app.