Last week Microsoft accused cloud gaming company OnLive and users of its OnLive Desktop of pirating Windows 7. OnLive made headlines when it launched OnLive Desktop earlier this year and again when it updated the product to support additional features and subscription plans. The app, which is available for the iPad and for Android, provides users with a cloud hosted Windows 7 desktop complete with the core Office apps (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) as well as Adobe Reader and a copy of Internet Explorer that iPad users can use to play Flash content.
After not voicing an opinion about OnLive Desktop for several weeks, Microsoft publicly announced that the OnLive was violating its license agreements and effectively breaking the law in the process. The issue appears to be specific to the licensing restrictions when offering Windows 7 in a virtual desktop scenario.
Although OnLive Desktop is probably the most well known cloud-based Windows and Office mobile solution, it isn’t the only one. And its competitors are quick to point the legality of their services and their compliance with Microsoft’s licensing policies.
The two main options beyond OnLive Desktop include CloudOn and Nivio. Both have made public statements about their licensing arrangements. Nivio’s statement is a bit more detailed and notes that the while the company provides a Windows desktop experience, it’s actually a Windows Server desktop and not Windows 7. CloudOn doesn’t go into much detail about its licensing arrangements beyond assuring users that it is properly licensed. However, CloudOn only provides access to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint with no Windows desktop at all, which would sidestep the issues that OnLiveDesktop is having.
Neither service provides the same experience as OnLive Desktop, but they do offer the core needs.
Nivio provides access using HTML 5 and can function on any compliant browser including Safari for iOS. The company offers a 30-day free trial but chargse users based on the amount of time that they spend using it ($5 will get you 10 hours of use), with students and other educational users getting a discount of ($2 for 10 hours of use). Nivio also offers access to a selection of Windows applications, including Office, through an in-service app store as well as 10GB of storage. Nivio’s U.S. site currently lets users pre-register for the service but you may find yourself waiting before you can access it.
CloudOn uses a native iPad app, which is free to download in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. The app includes access to cloud-based Office 2010 versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The apps themselves function the same as they do on a PC and the only difference is that there is no sign of a Windows desktop. Instead, there’s a basic but functional file browser that connects to a user’s Dropbox account. Currently, CloudOn is a free service. The company eventually plans to offer tiered or freemium model where some features will require payment.
Both are good alternative to OnLive Desktop and since both are in full compliance with Microsoft’s licensing requirements, there’s no risk of a court ordering them to shut down the service – something that is a possibility with OnLive Desktop until their licensing situation is resolved. Another possibility, given the legal shakiness of OnLive’s situation, is that Apple could pull its app from the App Store. That said, as of this writing, OnLive Desktop still available for download and the service is accessible.