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

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.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

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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