Desktop as a service - the new battleground for supremacy

Advice Adrian Bridgwater Jan 16, 2013

There's trouble brewing over the nature of desktop as a service as firms debate the nature of Microsoft licensing -it could all turn nasty

A somewhat confusing debate has been brewing in the virtualised desktop arena emanating from the Anaheim Hills of southern California. Platform agnostic virtual applications company tuCloud is unhappy about the rise to prominence of gaming company OnLive, with its (allegedly) “illegally licensed” proposition.

OnLive is said to have other virtualisation players “seething” as it has flouted Microsoft’s standard licensing terms for providing Windows and its applications in virtual cloud-based environments. But is that the case?

OnLive’s initial proposition was to act as an online live games service to allow users to play console-based games hosted on cloud servers over the web delivered to “almost any” device. The firm has been operating since June 2010 and claims to have “millions of users” in the US and Europe. Any device in this case means Macs, PCs, Android tablets and some TVs.

But OnLive has recently gone a stage further and has launched a service intended to provide Windows 7 with Microsoft Office 2010 to iPad and Android tablets for free.

So this is basically a free-of-charge cloud application with free-to-use fully-blown versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Adobe Reader in the ‘Standard’ edition, which also incorporates 2GB of file storage. A ‘Plus’ edition is available at US$4.99 a month with cloud accelerated web browsing, web mail attachment access (for Gmail for example) and cloud file access (for Dropbox for example).

OnLive is said to have other virtualisation players “seething” as it has flouted Microsoft’s standard licensing terms for providing Windows and its applications in virtual cloud-based environments

Users who want to replicate their Windows Office desktop experience on an tablet may well be attracted to the OnLive service if they can a) get used to touch interfacing for tasks traditionally performed with a mouse and b) put up with the fact that OnLive only works when connected to the cloud in an online state.

It all sounds well and good but there’s a catch: its current service is only available in the US – for the moment anyway. Anyone from the UK who tries to sign into OnLive Desktop will get the following message: "You are trying to sign in with a UK account. OnLive Desktop is currently only available in the US. We are working to make it available in your region as soon as possible."

It’s a moot point as to whether UK customers would actually welcome such a service, given the potential legal ramifications.  Analyst firm Gartner says that it believes that there's a risk that Microsoft could hold both OnLive and its customers responsible for any potential ‘mislicensing’. 

"Organisations and end users should note that OnLive Desktop Plus may present Microsoft licensing risks for organisations if consumers install the product on company iPads or use it to edit company documents from personal devices. Neither Microsoft nor OnLive has provided clear guidance on how users of these DaaS products must comply with Microsoft licensing requirements,” said Gartner.

Rumbles from Redmond
Microsoft isn’t happy either. The firm’s Redmond-based litigation department insists that its licensing terms provide “clarity and consistency” for its partners. The firm further maintains that it is “serious about issues of compliance” and that it wants to protect its intellectual property.