Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

App Ruins Your iPad by Running Windows on It

OnLive streams apps to tablets rather than running them locally

  • January 9, 2012

You can’t own a tablet for more than a month without thinking that it’s secretly a fully-functioning computer that was crippled at the factory just so you wouldn’t replace your laptop with it. Now OnLive has more or less proved that point, by rolling out an app that allows you to “run” windows on your iPad.

OnLive’s revolutionary technology makes iPads 50% less effective

But you’re not actually running Windows on the iPad, just streaming a continuous video feed of Windows directly to your iPad. So you have to be on a reasonably fast connection (wifi, not 3G) for it to work. Windows and its apps run in “the cloud,” or in this case OnLive’s remote servers.

OnLive is better known for applying this same technology to streaming gaming, which it unveiled just 18 months ago.

All kidding about the advisability of running Windows on an iPad aside, this is an interesting application of a much larger trend: offloading some, or in this case nearly all, of the processing for an application into the cloud. For example, processor-intensive tasks like face recognition are better accomplished by remote servers, and everything from location services like Skyhook to your cell phone’s email client represent a series of trade-offs between server and client side processing. AJAX, Web 2.0, etc. are also part of this trend of re-balancing which parts of the application are best chewed through locally or somewhere else.

Some folks have even turned this paradigm on its head, running “the cloud” on cell phones instead of servers.

At any rate, OnLive’s Windows-on-any-device cloud strategy could point the way to a future of (very) “thin clients” that can access any amount of computing power anywhere at any time, and contain just enough processor power to run a display and accept inputs. Or at least that’s the future this would point to in a world of unlimited bandwidth. As long as cell data service remains capped and people want to take their devices on airplanes, however, I imagine most of us will want to keep our apps client-side.

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