App turns iPad into client for multitasking, Flash

A longtime Silicon Valley company can turn an iPad into an X terminal, allowing the iPad to run Linux, and even Flash-based apps.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read

A longtime Silicon Valley company says it can turn Apple's iPad into an X terminal, allowing it to run Linux, do true multitasking, and even run Flash-based apps.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based StarNet Communications announced this week that it can transform the iPad into a an X terminal--generically referred to as a dumb terminal because the data processing is done on the server not the client--for Linux, Unix, mainframe, and supercomputers.

(See "Update" below for notes about the iPad's keyboard and initial browsing impressions.)

StarNet says it can enable the iPad to run Flash-based apps and Linux, by turning it into an X terminal.
StarNet lets the iPad run Linux and Flash-based apps by turning it into a X terminal.

iLIVEx, available from the Apple App Store for $14.99, allows iPad users to connect to Unix and Linux desktops and applications hosted on remote Unix and Linux servers. StarNet makes bold speed claims too. "iLIVEx features an ultrathin data transfer protocol allowing for LAN-like performance, even over 3G connections," the company said.

And iLIVEx maintains a stable connection to the iPad, StarNet said. "Connections...run over securely encrypted SSH (Secure Shell) tunnels. Built-in session persistency allows users to reconnect to their remote desktops should the iPad get disconnected, turned off, or the user temporarily switches to another iPad app."

iLIVEx can also be used by non-Linux users, allowing them to run a remote desktop. When purchased, StarNet provides a free Linux desktop account on a StarNet-hosted Linux server. On their remote desktop users get "a number of capabilities not currently available on iPads," the company said.

StarNet claims the following capabilities for iLIVEx clients on an iPad:

  • Viewing Flash: by way of Firefox on their remote Linux desktop, iPad users can employ iLIVEx to work with Flash-based Web sites and applications.
  • True multitasking: iLIVEx users can work on multiple office applications (word processor, e-mail, spreadsheet, and so on) simultaneously and copy and paste data between them.
  • Persistency: Users can reconnect to their remote Linux/Unix desktop at any time, even after the iPad has disconnected from the network. "No work is lost due to a disconnect," StarNet says.
  • Desktop Switching: Users can seamlessly switch remote desktops between iPads, Windows, Linux, and Macintosh PCs.

StarNet's first X Server product, MicroX, was launched in 1991. It enabled users of 286- and 386-based Intel systems to access the X Window System from their personal computers, according to a description on the company's Web site.

Update: Paul Swart, VP Sales & Marketing at StarNet, said in an email that iLIVEx is in the first phase of the product launch. And what follows are a few notes after limited use of iLIVEx. To bring up the iPad's keyboard in FireFox, for example, a three-finger tap is necessary. A two-finger tap is the equivalent of a right-mouse click. And scrolling is done in many instances with the scroll bar. Also note that when using a browser the response times can lag when scrolling and can be somewhat imprecise. And sound was not immediately available. "Sound is not supported in X Windows. But we have already made it work in a LIVE session with our Windows, Mac, and Linux clients using a separate sound server. Engineering thinks it is conceivable we can do this on the iPad," Swart said.

Updated at 12:50 p.m. PDT adding information about keyboard, scrolling and performance.