Remote desktop apps for smartphones and tablets can give you access to your computer’s desktop wherever you are, but they’re frequently messy, awkward affairs that demand patience and a bit of technical knowledge. OnLive, known until now as a game streaming service, has put its own hat into the ring with a take on the remote desktop ideal that gets rid of all that clumsiness and makes it accessible for non tech-heads. It’ll start as an iPad app, before branching out to Android tablets, smartphones, PCs and Macs.
However, its operation is rather different from the traditional remote desktop approach. OnLive desktop doesn’t give you an image of your own computer, but rather a separate “virtual” computer run from OnLive’s server farms. The app interface is not yet available in the UK, but we got to see it in action across a range of platforms. Its free to use, but paid-for options unlock more features.
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For the hardcore user, the stripped-back approach of OnLive Desktop may sound all-too restrictive at first. You start off with a fairly barebones install of Windows 7, but one that is equipped with Microsoft’s all-important Office apps. Using the free version of OnLive Desktop, any changes to this install will be wiped each time you use the service – a clean slate, every time.
All that OnLive retains is the 2GB of cloud storage that essentially acts as this virtual computer’s hard drive. You can’t install programs to the system with the freebie version, but when many people use remote desktop apps just to access Microsoft Office functionality, this basic option will be enough for plenty of people.
Step up to one of the paid-for plans for OnLive Desktop (starting at $9.99 in the US) and its functionality opens-up dramatically. You can install additional apps – as long as they’ve been approved by the OnLive bods – unlock 50GB of internal storage, and boost the power and connection speed of your virtual PC. There’s quite a bit to get your head around within OnLive Desktop – it’s like having a PC within a PC (or tablet) and the processing power and speed of this inner layer of the Russian doll is more important than the specs of your own tablet or computer.
The baseline performance of OnLive Desktop gives you about the same processing power as a basic laptop, but we were shown a higher-end version of the setup running Autodesk Maya with perfect fluidity. OnLive said it was performing with the grunt of a £6k PC. But, no, you won’t get this kind of power for a tenner a month – it’d only potentially be available as a custom setup. Also eye-opening is the incredible bandwidth available in OnLive’s data pipe. Using a java-based web speed test, we saw results of 144Mbps download and 102Mbps upload – and apparently the true figure is much higher, the results limited by the test rather than OnLive’s bandwidth.
Just like the OnLive gaming service before it, OnLive desktop is technologically hugely impressive – amounting to a whole computer in the cloud. Thousands of ‘em, in fact. But if the user experience isn’t up to snuff, it’ll all be for naught.