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3/13/2012
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Nivio Brings Microsoft Office To iPad

Nivio's cloud apps let you use Microsoft Office and more in any HTML5-compliant Web browser, including the one on your iPad.

Nivio's nDesktop is a flexible cloud-based service that places a fully functional Windows 7 desktop inside any HTML5-compliant Web browser. That includes mobile devices such as tablets--which means you can run Microsoft Office on an iPad.

I got a chance to try the software on the iPad at Macworld. Nivio demoed two other apps that work with nDesktop: nApps and nDrive. nApps is a service that lets nDesktop users rent apps--such as MS Office--on a monthly subscription basis. nDrive offers online and offline cloud document storage with or without nDesktop. Together Nivio's three most recent services offer a cross-platform, mobile, single desktop--as long as you have fast Internet access.

The bottleneck is latency. nDesktop uses canvassing translated to Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to communicate between the remote and host computer, a Rackspace server that does most of the heavy lifting. For maximum performance your ping time should be under 100ms--about the same latency that cutting-edge online games require.

nDesktop performed like a desktop and that was despite the high-latency Wi-Fi at the tradeshow. Everything from app interactivity, including complex commands and MS Office heavy lifting, ran smoothly. Unfortunately, Nivio didn't have creative apps such as Adobe Photoshop available to demo.

One of nDesktop's weak points is video playback. It's just not good at delivering smooth streaming in HD. So don't look for Adobe Premier Pro 5.5 on iPad any time soon. Nivio CEO Sachin Dev Duggal claims streaming video would intolerably increase users' minimum bandwidth requirements. Considering most devices are capable of streaming video content locally, Duggal doesn't see it as an enormous problem. The problem is a standard one for terminal interfaces such as those based on Citrix technology.

The company plans to develop a solution in the near future that will take advantage of local hardware, he said. What Duggal is probably alluding to is transferring the entire video request to the iPad, which then performs the streaming request to the server directly.

See a demo of Nivio's products below.

nDesktop was thoughtfully built for iPad. Although it doesn't yet support GPS, it does include most touch inputs such as the pinch zoom and typical poke and drag gestures. nDesktop and the apps come standard with a virtual mouse when more accuracy is required for fine navigation, which I found to be reasonably useful for MS Office type work. If nDesktop users want to use the iPad as a thin client, the software can use the VGA port to output video and Bluetooth to connect external devices.

Small to mid-size businesses have a number of nDesktop features to look forward to. Nivio plans to add centralized user management and billing, as well as a virtual file server with permission control. Also, the nBusiness control panel will add instant user provisioning, as well as application and storage management.

Because nDesktop operates remotely--as do the apps--Nivio takes care of upgrading, maintaining, and ensuring uptime. Nivio also maintains archives and backups. Hardware upgrades with nDesktop become less frequent. Because the OS and apps run remotely, older computers can run up-to-date programs at normal speeds. nDesktop will save cash by giving businesses the ability to rent software on a project-by-project basis.

Duggal said SMB business pricing will start around $25 a month plus an additional $15 a month for MS Office. For prosumers, nDesktop is $5 a month for 10 hours of use and $15 a month for unlimited access. nApps offers MS Office to consumers at the SMB price ($15), and Corel Draw X5 for $25 a month. There are educator and student options as well.

Currently, there are 120 nApps. Duggal said the company plans to add 700 more in the next six months, including Adobe products, and in 18 months there will be 5,000 nApps.

nDrive offers 10GB of free storage, and paid options for more. nDrive is also accessible offline.

Name: Nivio
Price: Starts at $2 a month, scaling up based on features and storage limits.

Nivio offers a Windows 7 desktop with a number of useful Office applications, and 10GB of free cloud storage. If you need to access MS Office apps on your iPad and can't wait for Microsoft to release Office for iOS, this is a good temporary solution. Look for more apps, such as Adobe's Creative Suite, in the future that could increase nDesk's value.
Pro:
  • The same desktop experience regardless of physical location or setup.
  • "On demand" app rentals keeps software costs down.
  • Uses HTML5 for maximum browser compatibility.
  • Generous free cloud storage of 10GB.
Con:
  • Video not great.
  • No offline nDesktop option.
  • Limited app selection.
  • Cannot install apps you already own.

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