David Pogue on OnLive

OnLive is a remarkable achievement, as David Pogue writes:

You’re probably paying something like $60 a month for high-speed Internet. I’m paying $5 a month, and my connection is 1,000 times faster.

Your iPad can’t play Flash videos on the Web. Mine can.

Your copy of Windows needs constant updating and patching and protection against viruses and spyware. Mine is always clean and always up-to-date.

No, I’m not some kind of smug techno-elitist; you can have all of that, too. All you have to do is sign up for a radical iPad service called OnLive Desktop Plus.

It’s a tiny app — about 5 megabytes. When you open it, you see a standard Windows 7 desktop, right there on your iPad. The full, latest versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Internet Explorer and Adobe Reader are set up and ready to use — no installation, no serial numbers, no pop-up balloons nagging you to update this or that. It may be the least annoying version of Windows you’ve ever used.

That’s pretty impressive — but not as impressive as what’s going on behind the scenes. The PC that’s driving your iPad Windows experience is, in fact, a “farm” of computers at one of three data centers thousands of miles away. Every time you tap the screen, scroll a list or type on the on-screen keyboard, you’re sending signals to those distant computers. The screen image is blasted back to your iPad with astonishingly little lag.

There’s an insane amount of technology behind this stunt — 10 years in the making, according to the company’s founder. (He’s a veteran of Apple’s original QuickTime team and Microsoft’s WebTV and Xbox teams.) OnLive Desktop builds on the company’s original business, a service that lets gamers play high-horsepower video games on Macs or low-powered Windows computers like netbooks.

(…)

OnLive says that its service works great over 4G cellular connections (like the one provided by an LTE MiFi) — but 3G connections and feeble hotel Wi-Fi hot spots are too slow to be satisfying. OnLive wants at least a 2-megabits-a-second connection on your end.

Finally, you have to sign into OnLive every time you want to use it, even if you’ve just flicked away to another iPad app. (OnLive says it’ll fix that.)

Even so, if ever there were a poster child for the potential of cloud computing, OnLive is it. This is jaw-dropping, extremely polished technology. It opens up a universe of software and horsepower that live far beyond the iPad’s wildest dreams — with no more effort on your part than a few taps on glass.

Do read the whole thing »