3 min read

Microsoft Blesses OnLive Windows-On-iPad: One Catch

Upstart service that brings virtual Windows desktop to iPad gets approval from Microsoft, at a price. It has swapped Windows 7 for Windows Server 2008, a change users say stinks.
Microsoft has given its imprimatur to a service from online gaming company OnLive that lets users run a virtualized instance of Windows, along with Office apps, on their Apple iPads. But Redmond’s approval has come at a price. OnLive has switched its Windows engine from Windows 7 to Windows Server 2008 R2. It still provides a Windows desktop experience on the iPad, but users say it runs poorly on touch screens compared to Windows 7.

OnLive launched its Windows for iPad in February. The basic service is free, with additional charges for extras such as Explorer, Flash, and cloud storage. At launch, the service was hailed for its ability to deliver a true, and highly responsive, Windows experience on the iPad.

But the service also raised questions. Windows, even in a virtualized environment, generally requires a per-user license on the desktop. So it was unclear how OnLive was managing to offer the service free of charge. Microsoft itself cried foul. Licensing VP Joe Matz said in a blog post last month that the company was "actively engaged with OnLive with the hope of bringing them into a properly licensed scenario, and we are committed to seeing this issue resolved."

Apparently it has been resolved. "We're pleased to have been told that the OnLive desktop application is now accessing our software by hosting it on Windows Server," Microsoft said in a somewhat oblique statement. Both OnLive and Microsoft were mum about the licensing details. Commentators and users, however, note that the new setup delivers are far less attractive Windows-on-iPad experience.

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Among other things, users are complaining that handwriting support has vanished from OnLive's Windows desktop. "Who here wants the handwriting support back? I know I do," wrote a user going by the name "beez1717", on the OnLiveFans blog.

There may be more to the story. Some rival VDI service providers have speculated that OnLive has received easy licensing terms from Microsoft, if not an outright pass, to deliver Windows on tablets because OnLive CEO Steve Perlman has close ties to Redmond. He was previously a division president at Microsoft and has sold startups to the software maker.

OnLive continues to offer a basic Windows desktop plan, albeit via Windows Server, for free. A $4.99 per month plan adds "priority access" and support for Adobe Flash. The company is also planning a $9.99 per month "Pro" offering that will include 50GB of storage. OnLive additionally offers a custom, enterprise service that will deploy Linux or Windows on to iPads or Google Android devices in the workplace.

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