While the Apple iPad has become the tablet of choice for consumers and business users alike, it lacks certain mainstream tools, most notably Microsoft Office apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Windows tablets, at least until Windows 8 models appear later this year, tend to be clunky, but run the full range of productivity software.
Fortunately, if you want to experience the best of both worlds, you don't have to buy two devices, as there are an increasing number of options for people who want to run Windows--in various ways--on an iPad. Here's a look at six potential solutions.
1. OnLive: Originally a gaming service, streaming software company OnLive recently rolled out OnLive Desktop, which lets you access a version of Windows on an iPad. OnLive first offered Windows 7 through the service, but has since switched to Windows Server 2008 R2 (following a licensing dispute with Microsoft.) The service now has Redmond's blessing.
The free tier offers access to the full suite of Office apps and 2GB of cloud storage. For $4.99 per month, users also get Flash support and "Gigabit-speed" storage. The $9.99 per month Pro edition, which OnLive says is coming soon, provides 50GB of storage.
2. Splashtop: For developers who want to get a jumpstart on testing Windows 8 apps, Splashtop this week released a remote desktop app called Win8 Metro Testbed. The app allows developers to code and compile Windows 8 Metro apps on a PC, and then stream the apps to a simulated Win8 environment on an iPad. That gives developers the chance to test elements such as layout and touch sensitivity without having to wait until Microsoft and its partners release actual Windows 8 tablet hardware later this year.
Splashtop says Win8 Metro Testbed supports the full range of Windows 8 gestures, including swipe, pinch, and pull down.
3. Nivio: Nivio's nDesktop service offers you access to a cloud-based Windows desktop from any device, including the iPad and other tablets. The company offers three ways to access the service—from a downloadable client, a standard browser, or through an HTML5-based Web client. By Nivio's own admission, however, the service is limited in some key areas--video playback, gaming, and Webcams are not supported, although the company says it's working on these features. Nivio's virtual Windows desktop also won't run executable files. Still, it's not like the service requires a big investment. nDesktop plans start at $2 per month.
4. Citrix: One of the oldest players in the virtual desktop market, Citrix, brings Windows to the iPad with its Citrix Receiver tools. These help IT departments manage users' personal devices (say in a company with a BYOD policy for mobile gadgets.) Centralized management tools let admins recognize Windows-on-iPad devices on a network and manage them alongside regular Windows PCs.
Citrix is selling Citrix Receiver as part of its XenDesktop VDI package or through its XenApp streaming software service. Citrix Receiver can be downloaded from Apple's App Store. It also supports Windows on Android.
5. Parallels: Parallels was one of the first vendors to offer a Windows on Mac solution, so it's not surprising that it was also among the first to introduce a Windows on iPad client. The Parallels Mobile App, available for $19.99 from the App Store, lets iPad users access Windows apps from any Mac that's running Windows through the Parallels Desktop client.
The app brings a host of new capabilities to the iPad, such as Flash and full access to Outlook and Explorer. It also supports cut-and-paste between mobile devices and Windows apps.
6. Molten Technologies: Upstart Molten Technologies [see video below] specializes in providing virtual desktop services for businesses. Its Desktone-based cloud platform streams what the company has coined "Desktop as a Service", and among those services is Windows for the iPad.
Its pitch for enterprise users is that all of its services are hosted at a secure, Tier 3 data center, and segregated networks are provisioned for each customer. Customers also maintain control of firewall and other security settings.