I am writing this not using my desktop computer or even a notebook but my iPad2.  Now, I know you’re thinking there is nothing extraordinary about that and you are right until you understand I am writing using an online version of Microsoft Word on the iPad, fed live to me by Online Desktop.  I am using the free version for the moment, but this is so cool I could easily be talked into paying the $9.95 a month needed to get priority service. A couple of minutes did pass before I was allowed into the site “because it was full”.  That could be a problem if trying to access critical work documents on a deadline and makes paying the fee a necessity if you’re depending on this service for work.

Love it or hate it, what makes the whole thing so cool is working with the standard ribbon interface, the same one I use when using my MacBook Air or Pro and running Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 or 2007 for Windows. (The application being run is actually Word 2010.)  When you first boot into Onlive Desktop, what you see is a replica Windows desktop on your iPad, complete with a Taskbar along the bottom of the screen and several Office icons, as well as some for Paint, a new photography application named Microsoft Surface Collage, a Sticky Note app, and one for a calculator.  To launch any application, you simply tap the icon with your finger and it goes.  The desktop automatically orients itself into landscape mode, which gives you the most working room.  That said, if you use the software keyboard, it clobbers the bottom half of the screen; so working with Onlive Desktop is really only practical with some kind of hardware keyboard.  I’m using a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad but any keyboard that will work with the iPad will suffice.

While typing this review, I launched PowerPoint, entered some text into a slide, saved the presentation, and then switched back to Word by touching the Word icon on the Taskbar visible below the application window.  PowerPoint remained responsive even while I hunted for some photos or clip art to include, something I didn’t find.  Earlier, I had played with Excel, enlarging the view of its cells by using standard iPad swiping motions and found the application responsive enough to make that a useful approach.  It does appear that Microsoft has succeeded in tailoring Office to the iPad environment, making it a true partner in the iPad’s world.  The only problem I forsee with Onlive is that it will be unavailable and therefore useless to the lonely writer sitting in his mountain cabin cut off from the world.  But, like any cloud application, it will work fine as long as you have good Internet access and server loads do not reach a point where responsiveness dies.  Seeing that I got denied entrance for a few minutes when I logged in on a Saturday does make me wonder whether the problem will be better or worse on a day when everyone shows up for work.

For the moment, Onlive Desktop is only available for the iPad, though the website claims it’s coming for PC, Mac, and Android.  When I logged in using my Mac Pro, the browser simply directed me to the files I had worked on while in the cloud.  It let me swiftly download this review, which I easily opened in Word 2011.  All formatting was intact.  I’ll try the same with a handbuilt presentation from PowerPoint and spreadsheet in Excel in a few days.  For now, if you’ve been looking for or hoping to see Microsoft Office on the iPad, go sign up for an Onlive Desktop account at: http://www.onlive.com.  All you need to  spend is a little time waiting for the powers that be to validate and activate your account.  That won’t take long, and it will be worth it.