When the iPad was released two years ago, it was incorrectly labeled as a "content consumption" device. Not by Apple, who had their own iWork office suite ready to go on day one, but by seemingly everyone else. The iPad wasn't for "real" work, or so the digerati told us.
Since then, the thousands of business apps available for the iPad have proven otherwise, and it is now a fixture in doctor's offices, airplane cockpits, law firms and many other businesses.
There is one app, however, that is quite conspicuous in its absence: Microsoft Office. While there are many Office-like suites available for the iPad, there is only one Office (which, one could argue, is a testament to how bloated it has become over the years), and sometimes you just need the genuine article.
Enter a new app called "OnLive Desktop" from OnLive, a company based in California.
Simply sign up for a free account on the OnLive website, and then download the free OnLive Desktop app from the iPad App Store. Log in, and staring back at you will be a pristine Windows 7 desktop with shortcuts for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Your iPad will remotely connect to a Windows terminal server, serving you up your own desktop and access to Office, as well as 2GB of personal storage to get your Office files on and off said OnLive desktop.
Because of Microsoft's Touch-Pack software that is enabled in your remote session, you interact with your Windows desktop with all the normal touch-based gestures you'd expect with an iPad (though a stylus does work well for some of the smaller window elements in Office). Astoundingly, this costs nothing and works very well -- there is very little lag in interacting with your Windows desktop.
Things really start to get interesting if you sign up for the OnLive Desktop Plus account. For $4.99 a month, you get your Office suite and 2GB of storage, plus access to Internet Explorer and OnLive's absurd 1-Gigabit-per-second connection (up and down).
Considering the fastest connection speed available to us mere mortals here locally is 50 Megabits-per-second, that's the fastest Internet connection you might ever use for the rest of your life (and I count my 8-week-old daughter in that group)! Speeds like that mean downloading 50 MB documents in a second, or uploading the five-minute HD video you took of your child's birthday in just a few seconds more. What's more, having a full-fledged version of Internet Explorer on your iPad means you have access to all the Flash-based content on the Web -- such as watching free TV shows on Hulu.com, which you can't do on the iPad unless you upgrade to their Plus account.
OnLive has released a version for Android tablets and says they are also developing their thin clients for iPhones and Macs. I would certainly think long and hard about ever again plunking down the money for a Windows license and a copy of Parallels or VM Ware just to run Windows on my Mac with a service like this available to me.
There is currently a question over licensing -- Microsoft says OnLive is violating its software agreement for Windows, but that will most likely be resolved by OnLive paying them a fee per user in the near future.
If you're an iPad owner, give the OnLive Desktop service a spin today -- it is the very definition of cloud computing.
Morgan Bonner is pre-press manager and a systems administrator for the Packet and Gazette. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.twitter.com/packetITguy.