In 2010, OnLive introduced online-streaming games to PC and Mac users. Last year, it extended the platform to mobile devices. And this year, the company is focusing on productivity apps, starting by offering free basic Microsoft Office functionality to iPad users.
Beginning on Thursday, U.S. iPad users will be able to download an app from the iTunes App Store to use the free service. Users can sign up early, starting Tuesday.
The free service provides 2 gigabytes of storage. After an initial testing phase, OnLive will offer a $9.99-per-month OnLive Desktop Pro version with 50GB of storage and access to additional software, including programs that customers can download themselves to OnLive's servers. The company will also launch an enterprise version, with which IT professionals will be able to add additional software and allocate employee access privileges.
Even with the free service, when you sign on, you see a Windows 7 desktop, which, based on a hands-on demo at the company's Palo Alto, Calif., office, starts up very quickly. OnLive is taking advantage of some of the features built into Windows 7 for tablets (yes, Microsoft has supported Windows tablets for years) to give users an iPad-like experience, even though they're using the iPad as a terminal to run Windows. Features include pinch and zoom, drag and drop, and the ability to draw or write on the screen with a finger or a stylus. The version of Office available for streaming includes handwriting recognition.
Based on the demo, Windows runs remarkably fast. OnLive CEO Steve Perlman said in an interview (scroll down to listen to podcast) that the company is applying the same technology that enables it to stream fast-action video games. Game users, Perlman said, "can't have a laggy experience; it has to be nice and smooth with good-quality visuals. So we're taking that same discipline we developed to make video games work remotely and now applying it to productivity."
Perlman said previous streaming efforts that "focused entirely on productivity didn't have that standard, and people accepted the fact that maybe, when you moved a window, it was a little choppy, if it was remote.
The Pro and Enterprise versions will also enable document sharing, collaborating, and presenting. With the collaboration features, people will be able to work on documents together.
The service will eventually be available to other platforms, including iPhones, Android devices, PCs, Macs, and even TVs. OnLive offers an optional TV adapter that can be used to "broadcast" a PowerPoint presentation to TVs or--by attaching a pointing device and keyboard to the TV--to fully use the apps from a connected TV.
Podcast interview with OnLive CEO Steve Perlman