Video game ‘streaming’ platform OnLive recently rolled out its OnLive Office app. Basically, they are hosting an instance of Windows, and Office, in the cloud, and streaming it to you for use on the iPad. The downside is that it requires a persistent web connection. The upside is that it’s free* and offers the promise of full MS Office functionality on the iPad. Does it do the trick? After some sign-up throttling hiccups, my account went live and I went to work to find out.
*OnLive intends to offer paid versions as well. Paid users will receive server/bandwidth prioritization, and perhaps other added benefits down the road (Quicken anyone?)
Here’s a look at the desktop. As a commenter pointed out, it really feels like a Windows machine inside your iPad. For my part, it’s a bit like a possession, and a somewhat unsettling one!
I really wanted to like OnLive, so I went in with an open mind. The good news is that unlike CloudOn, I noticed somewhere between ‘no lag’ and ‘not enough lag to bother me’ in real usage. I guess their long experience streaming games has taught them a thing or two.
The bad news is that as with CloudOn, OnLive has two issues I simply cannot get past, and a few other niggling issues which make the overall experience one I cannot really recommend except in a pinch. CloudOn’s issues are the lag, and UI. OnLive’s biggest problems break down in two main areas:
1) The app uses its own custom keyboard rather than the system keyboard. There’s a neat trick you can use to swipe it on and off screen (I left it up full time because in Excel in particular it’s difficult to consistently tap to get the little ‘show me the keyboard’ button to pop up) but as a keyboard it’s frankly terrible. And I mean terrible. As spacious and useable as the iPad system keyboard is, the OnLive keyboard is cramped, filled with tiny buttons, and leaves you only the option of hunt and peck style typing. See here:
I applaud the effort to get a full fledged desktop keyboard onto the iPad’s screen. But in use, it’s just too cramped and reminds me of the Dell Mini 9 Hackintosh keyboard. Ick. All the touch typing proficiency I’ve built up was simply gone. And to be honest I don’t think you could get there with OnLive even with a lot of practice. Even though certain functions would be ‘buried’ somewhat using the system keyboard, I highly recommend to OnLive that they at least make it a user option. Without it, I could never use OnLive long term.
2) The UI, while more familiar and ‘standard’ Office feeling than CloudOn’s, is still needlessly complex and flies in the face of the wonderful, elegant UI standards that have been set by native apps like those in the iWork suite. The bar is high, and OnLive reveals the pitfalls of porting – even when done with some care – as opposed to designing anew from the ground up.Add in the lack of integration with Dropbox or other cloud based file lockers and an inability to print directly from within the app, and I’m left with a sort of perplexed sense of things here.
OnLive seems to have the virtual machine hosting/streaming thing down pat. There’s no lag that I perceived as problematic. And they’ve obviously put thought and effort into this Office effort. On the other hand, they shipped something difficult enough to use with any regularity that I have to wonder whether the folks at OnLive actually spent time using it themselves.
Replace the keyboard with the iOS system keyboard, and integrate with dropbox, and OnLive might have a winner, moreso if they streamline the UI as well. Until then, those looking for MS Office on the iPad will have to wait until Microsoft does the inevitable, or, use Apple’s pretty great iWork apps.