Who Wants Microsoft Office on the iPad?

OnLive jumps into the Office-for-iPad fray with a subscription-based hosted desktop Office suite for the iPad that should be more reliable than its criticized free version. Bonus: Will Microsoft deliver iPad Office?

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Thu, February 23, 2012

CIO — Leaping into the swirling waters of the Office-iPad debate, OnLive unleashed this week a more complete version of its virtual Windows apps offering. Called OnLive Desktop Plus, the $4.99 per month service delivers hosted desktop versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Internet Explorer and Adobe Reader on the iPad.

OnLive, which has its roots in online gaming, has coupled its server-side compression and iPad-side decompression technology with a way to silence extraneous network chatter. The result is OnLive Desktop Plus with gigabit speed, and Internet Explorer running Flash and rivaling native Safari's speed.

"Experiencing a full Flash-enabled Web experience at gigabit speeds on iPad is nothing short of breathtaking," says Steve Perlman, OnLive founder and CEO.

A 50 MB file from a cloud storage service provider such as Dropbox, which OnLive Desktop Plus supports, or a 15 MB attachment from Web email will download or upload in less than a second on an iPad, OnLive claims. OnLive Desktop Plus includes 2 GB of cloud storage.

OnLive also plans to launch enterprise-class versions of its service in the near future, OnLive Desktop Pro and OnLive Enterprise.

OnLive Desktop Plus hopes to answer critics of its free version, OnLive Desktop Standard. The latter was panned by Infoworld, an IDG sister site, in a story entitled OnLive's train wreck: Office on the iPad.

"A lot of the problems raised in the article are valid," admits Perlman, adding, "but that was a free version. We've fixed those problems." The free version has as-available access to OnLive Desktop servers that renders the service spotty, whereas OnLive Desktop Plus has priority access.

Yet the main gripe concerns the lack of integration between the virtual OnLive Windows and iPad environments. File transfers between the two environments still require roundabout methods such as Dropbox and Web email. Users can't call up the iPad's virtual keyboard, instead they must use the less optimal Windows virtual keyboard.

OnLive Desktop Plus also requires a fast Internet connection. Without one, users might not be able to connect to the service or will experience lags that render the virtual Windows apps barely usable, which was the case when I tested the service (although OnLive suggests I might have a faulty router). This is one of the reasons why Perlman hopes the next iPad expected to debut March 7 will support 4G LTE.

Perhaps the biggest drawback to OnLive Desktop Plus lies in the nature of its offering: Desktop Microsoft Office wasn't designed to be used on a small touchscreen tablet.

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