Parallels Access lets you connect with both Windows and Mac computers from your iPad, and even gives you an iPad-like experience for launching and using regular desktop computer apps.
When I met with the folks from Parallels, they described the launcher interface using the word "Applified," as in, the programs on your desktop computer are "applified" to work well with the touch screen of your iPad. What that means is, Parallels Access detects the programs on your computer's hard drive and gives you app icons in its own special launcher for your desktop apps, laid out just like other apps on your iPad.
It's important to note that Parallels Access is a subscription-based service that costs $79.99 per year, which you will pay for in the App Store. But the problem is that it's $79.99 for each computer you access, so if I were a paying customer, the ability to access both my Mac laptop and my Windows desktop for this review would cost $159.98 per year. On the other hand, it may be worth the money if you spend a lot of time away from your desktop and need to show something to a client or edit documents on programs that are only available for desktop. Still, it seems like the pricing is a bit steep for access to each additional computer.
To get started, go to the App Store and download the Parallels Access app for iPad for free. Then click on the link to go to the Parallels Web site where you can download the Parallels Access agent for your Mac or PC. You get a 14-day free trial of the Mac version, and the Windows version will be a free public beta at launch (later going out of beta and becoming a 14-day free trial). During the trial you can purchase a one-year subscription through the app to continue using Parallels Access. Once registered and signed in, you can simply launch the app on your iPad, then choose which connected desktop you want to work with. I tried it with both Mac and Windows systems and it worked smoothly on both.
Once connected to a computer, Parallels Access shows its launcher with a select group of Applified apps from the programs on your desktop computer. If there's another app you want to use that's not shown in the launcher, simply hit the plus sign in the upper right and scroll through the list of your desktop computer apps until you find it.
When you launch a program, such as Microsoft Word for example, the program runs in full screen on your iPad. A tab on the right side of the screen gives you controls for Parallels Access including a button to bring up all open applications on your desktop computer (where you can browse open windows for each); a button to quickly go to the launcher; a Settings button; and a button to bring up the iPad keyboard. You can also move the Access controls tab up or down on the screen or swipe it off screen to get it out of the way while you work. To bring it back, swipe from the edge of the screen.
The Settings button lets you do a number of useful things for interacting with your desktop programs. When touch-screen controls and gestures are not enough, an Additional Keys button brings up just the important control keys from your keyboard (such as escape, directional arrows, shift, and control) instead of the whole keyboard. There's also a mouse pointer button that lets you left or right click on items and use the contextual menus just like you would on your desktop computer.
I tried Parallels Access with several different programs, and though it takes some getting used to with the touch-screen controls, all of them worked as they should. For all of you wondering whether you can launch games from your desktop computer, you can, but the slight delay and control limitations (you're not using a mouse, after all) make most games unplayable.
The only problem I encountered with Parallels Access was that it wasn't as responsive as using an actual desktop. This is certainly to be expected, but what it means is that you'll often have to try an action a couple of times to get it to work. Still, to get access to the programs on your desktop is probably worth the trouble.
Overall, Parallels Access is great for using programs from your desktop computer on your iPad. Though it's not quite as responsive as using the real thing, with a little patience, most actions can be completed as though you were using a desktop computer.