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Performance

For all intents and purposes, OnLive Desktop is simply a virtual Windows desktop attached to a crazy fast internet connection. How fast? I checked.

All testing was done on an iPad2 with iOS version 5.0.1. The OnLive Desktop is advertised as "Gigabit-accelerated" browsing. The speed is shared between all OnLive users and it's very fast. So fast, that the challenge is how to test it accurately. I ran tests against various speedtest websites and more than likely maxxed out those sites with the testing.

The fastest I was able to see using SpeedTest.net was a 6ms latency and 195.16 Mbps (24 MBps) down and 136.43 Mbps (17 MBps) up, which is pretty zippy and still probably not an accurate indication of the true speed. Note this speed is between the OnLive Desktop virtual machine and the internet. So don't expect OnLive to actually speed up your poky DSL connection.

OnLive Desktop run on SpeedTest.net
Figure 6: OnLive Desktop run on SpeedTest.net

But OnLive's "secret sauce" is the fast screen-update technology that it developed for its OnLive Game service. If OnLive can make remotely hosted fast-twitch games responsive enough over relatively low bandwidth connections, remote display of office apps, web browsing and even Flash video is a piece of cake. (OnLive's FAQ specs 2 Mbps minimum and 5 Mbps recommended download bandwidth to use the service.)

For me, office applications and web pages loaded very quickly. Files created and saved in OnLive Desktop took about a minute to show up in the OnLive Files page. OnLive Files is the Web portal used to access files created in OnLiveDesktop or to upload files to your OnLive Desktop instance.

Figure 7 shows a few test files in my OnLive Files area. Clicking on a file simply downloads it—there is no editing or even file viewing available from here. Note that mouse selection is a bit more sensitive in the application than on the iPad app itself.

OnLive Files web access
Figure 7: OnLive Files web access

Since general web browsing isn't available in the Free version, I signed up for Plus and found an unexpected use for OnLive Desktop. A big gripe about the iPad is its lack of Flash support since many sites use Flash for their videos. I eventually got PlayOn to work, streaming Hulu and other Flash video to our iPad on the local network. I also found that sound and video were perfect when streaming Flash video inside the OnLive Desktop app. For some iPad owners, this alone may be worth the $4.99 a month.

Security

The Desktop itself is locked down well as evidenced by my attempts to install apps, load reg files, and run scripts. I was simply told I had no permission, which was expected and good.

I had to dig into OnLive Desktop's Privacy Policy to find information about data security. Along with the usual boilerplate assurance that "we ... use industry standard tools and techniques to protect against unauthorized access to our systems...", I found that the connection between the desktop apps and OnLive's servers is secured via 256 bit SSL.

But, like some other cloud services, there is no mention of whether the data itself is encrypted either before or after it lands on OnLive's servers. So it's safe to assume that it doesn't. Actually, this statement from the Privacy Policy Data Security section sums it up nicely:

"We want you to feel confident using the Websites and Services. No system, however, can be completely secure. Therefore, although we take commercially reasonable steps to secure your information, we do not promise, and you should not expect, that your Personal Information, other communications or content always will remain secure. In the event of a breach of the confidentiality or security of your Personal Information, we will notify you if reasonably possible and as reasonably necessary so that you can take appropriate protective steps."

Since you can't install any other apps in your Desktop, you can't even choose to encrypt files yourself. So if security is a top concern, you'll need to give OnLive Desktop a pass.

Support

Support options include a searchable online Answers section, support question submission and live chat. Chat is available for 16 hours a day (4am-8pm, PST / 12pm-4am, GMT). While the Contact Us page provides a physical address in Palo Alto, neither phone number nor support email address is posted.

Closing Thoughts

If you are looking for a way to have a remote Windows desktop available on your iPad or Android tablet and don't want to open up your local network to the internet for something like RDP access, then the $4.99 OnLive Desktop could be for you. An added bonus is that it brings Flash playback to iPads for any site viewable by Internet Explorer. This even helps Android tablets that can view Flash-based sites, since many services, Hulu+ notably, block website access for Android devices.

My main disappointment was with OnLive Desktop's on-screen keyboard. I would rather see integration of the tablet's native keyboard that other apps utilize. I could not foresee myself typing entire documents or editing articles with OnLive Desktop's keyboard, at least not the one used in the iPad app!

Overall, however, OnLive Desktop is well executed, easy to use and worked well. And for $5 a month with no commitment, definitely worth a try!

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