OnLive Desktop switches from Windows 7 access to Windows Server, usability suffers

OnLive Desktop switches from Windows 7 access to Windows Server, usability suffers

Summary: When things seem too good to be true, that often is the case. This was the case with OnLive Desktop, which brought Windows 7 access to the iPad for free.


I was impressed with OnLive Desktop and the virtual Windows 7 desktop it brought to the iPad when it debuted early this year. When OnLive added Internet Explorer and Flash support for a nominal fee a short time later I was quick to sign up for the added features. Then the Android version rolled out and and my joy was complete.

Unfortunately, that joy wasn't long for this world as circumstances have forced OnLive to change the service, and not for the better.

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Shortly after OnLive Desktop went live experts began asking how the company was offering Windows 7 access without proper licensing. That prompted Microsoft to step in to have discussions with the company, informing them that the only way Windows 7 can be offered is if every user has a license for the OS. That killed the OnLive Desktop premise, unless the company would require each user of its service to purchase a Windows 7 license.

The discussion between OnLive and Microsoft has apparently been ongoing, and recently OnLive changed the backend of the Desktop service. It now uses Windows Server 2008 R2 instead of Windows 7, although no details were forthcoming from either company what terms were reached.

While OnLive Desktop still looks the same, the absence of Windows 7 under the hood is sorely missed. Gone is the great touch optimization that made OnLive Desktop a joy to use in my original review. That was provided by Windows 7 and thus no longer there. Gone is the Windows Journal from the original offering.

Operating Internet Explorer, a Plus feature, is particularly bad by touch under the new system. Windows 7 made IE work like it should on a tablet, with finger scrolling and pinch zooming that worked well on the iPad. That is no longer the case and tablet operation is frankly difficult.

The new OnLive Desktop based on Windows Server is still functionally equivalent, with access to the full MS Office suite, but the touch operation is clumsy at best. For a service that is accessed on an iPad or Android tablet, this makes operation much harder than it was with Windows 7 running things.

Many users may find it to still be good enough and an economical solution to have access to a full version of Windows on a tablet. Others may no longer find it to be as easy to use by touch. I will probably be cancelling my paid Plus service as a result of this change.

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Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Servers, Software, Windows

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  • Par for the course from M$

    And it makes me wonder if this was a prelude to Microsoft finally offering some true Office product on IOS?
    terry flores
    • Par for Apple, or any other company

      that sells software, you mean, right?

      It's not like Apple would let OnLive buy one copy of iWorks and let everyone with a tablet access to it, right?

      Really, why single out M[b]S[/b] here? Or are you going on recond claiming all other software companies would be happy with the "buy one copy" business model?
      William Farrel
  • OnLive now should have bought enough licences to cover all their users
    • YOu have to understand how Windows licensing works

      Windows 7, being a desktop OS requires each user to have a license. If you have 10 Million users you need 10 million licenses.

      I assume they went with Windows Server because with the server version you can set up a terminal server. You need one license for each concurrent user. So if you have 10 million users but you only ever have 3 million at the same time, you only need 3 million licenses. And the TS license is much less expensive than a Windows 7 License.

      The downside is that being a server OS, Windows Server does not (apparently) have the touch add on's that 7 has.

      The fact that they thought they could just let every single user use Windows 7 is an extremely bone headed error. Regardless of whose products you are going to use for a project like this, wouldn't it make some sense to talk to that company first? Was anyone naive enough to believe Microsoft would just give this out for free? Had they contacted Microsoft in advance, I'm betting something could have been worked out.
      • Per Device or Per Named User ?

        I thought TS (or now I think they call it RDS for Remote Desktop Services) was licensed per Device or Per Named User. In either case, I don't think you can get by with Concurrent Licensing. You would have to purcahse a Microsoft RDS CAL (Client Access License) on a Per User basis. My guess is MS and OnLive had negotiated a relatively good price (I want to say $100 in single seat quantities, but volume may get it down somewhat) to make that happen, but it is still probably significantly eating away at OnLive profits (going from paying nothing to paying something).
  • So much for the "Post PC Era"

    Forgive me for being snarky, but if we are in the Post PC Era, why would you need to run a PC OS and a PC office suite on your nice, shiny, new tablet in the first place??

    @terry flores - if you don't like M[b]S[/b] licensing, why would you use their software?
    Six Strings Down
    • RE: So much for the "Post-PC Era"

      This is a common thing in my organization and others I have spoken to. They have their iPad or tablet and what special accommodations so they can have remote access to a full desktop OS while at work and on the go. Just makes me wonder why they just do not get a nice light 12" Screen Laptop and call it a day.
  • How come 2008 r2 doesn't also have touch support? They're based on the same

    How come 2008 r2 doesn't also have touch support? They're based on the same code base. That's a shame.
    • Servers and touch screens

      Because it's rare to see touch controlled servers.
    • I'm curious if they configured it right...

      I say this because there are a ton of tweaks that you can do to Server 2008 R2 to make it very close to Windows 7 (including getting the "glass" experience).

      Sure some things won't work (like burning a CD or DVD), but what doesn't work isn't important if you're running in a remote desktop session.
  • This Wouldn't Even be a Problem If...

    ...users had spent that $500 on an actual laptop that can run Microsoft Office. Hmm... iPad + hacks to get Windows and Office OR Laptop with Windows and Office preinstalled. Seems obvious to me.
  • Legacy Windows support for business applications

    As the future brings Windows 8 closer. More people will want clasic windows experience or to use on non windows running devices. The best bet is to install windows 7 on a VM on your own PC. If you bought a full version of windows 8, I feel they should alow users to use their OEM license to install a windows 7 vm. The funny thing would be that the usre will end up using the vm more than the host.