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Windows on an iPad: OnLive Desktop rents you PC in the cloud

OnLive Desktop promises to stick a whole Windows 7 computer onto your iPad via the cloud. Read on for all the details.

Windows on an iPad? OnLive Desktop claims it has the solution. OnLive

Can iPads and tablets eventually kill the laptop? OnLive thinks it has the solution.

The limitations currently make such a proposition unlikely, but OnLive's announcement of a cloud-based Windows environment for the iPad provides an alternative to the App Store. Color us intrigued, but skeptical.

OnLive Desktop is a freemium service, with a free 2GB-capped service and a $9.99/month premium account with 50GB of storage. The idea's a little bit like Dropbox, in theory, mixed with the type of virtualization seen from companies like Citrix. OnLive rents users a Windows PC on one of their servers, along with access to a full suite of applications, including Microsoft Office and flash-enabled web browsers, to theoretically create a desktop-like working environment when connected to the internet.

The service offers access to a cloud-based Windows 7 environment populated with Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, along with other utilities and even a few games. OnLive CEO Steve Perlman, via a conference call, confirmed that the service's speed and quality of streaming will allow users to play Flash games on an iPad using an OnLive Desktop web browser. OnLive Desktop will support touch access, as well as stylus and Bluetooth keyboards, providing a variety of ways to interact with the service's apps.

I was supposed to get access to a beta version of OnLive Desktop to try out, but due to possible complications, that's been put on hold. Because of that and OnLive Desktop's price, I've been skeptical, but OnLive has proven itself with its cloud gaming service on tablets, TVs, computers, and phones, delivering playable PC games via the cloud in ways that many thought would be impossible. The demands of office-based applications are far less intensive, so the challenge should be far less daunting for a company like OnLive to tackle.

Still, there's the issue of price. While the free service will allow access to most of OnLive Desktop's offerings, a phone call with OnLive discussed how the premium service will offer its own VIP servers to reduce the chance of access problems. The $9.99 asking price for OnLive Desktop Pro is steep for a subscription, even if the cloud-based PC desktop can be accessed across multiple computers and tablets: Google Docs is free, and many iPad apps with cloud support don't cost more than a few dollars. Documents to Go, an office suite for the iPad, only costs $19.99.

OnLive Desktop launches as an iPad app on the App Store on Thursday. At first, only the free version will be available, with the subscription-based OnLive Desktop Pro coming soon. Future support has been announced for Android, smartphones, PC/Mac, and OnLive TV-connected MicroConsoles as well, although specific release dates for those platforms haven't been set.

Check the photos for a peek at OnLive's vision, but remember this: I've never found myself enjoying a touch-based Windows 7 tablet experience. I'd be shocked if OnLive Desktop discovered the Holy Grail.