OnLive Adds “Cloud-Accelerated Browsing” To Its Streaming-Desktop Stable

You’re probably familiar with OnLive, the company that made its mark by streaming brand new console and PC games to whatever devices could support a high-bandwidth video stream. Many doubted its technology to begin with (including yours truly – Is OnLive OnCrack?) but they’ve more or less delivered on their promises, and have also been expanding the services they offer. Most recently they introduced OnLive Desktop, which streamed a Windows 7 desktop to your iPad.

That was mainly focused on productivity – Office apps and such. Now they’ve added web browsing to the table. Yes, they will stream live video of a web browser running in a datacenter to your device, which almost certainly already has a web browser.

If that sounds crazy, it’s probably because it kind of is. But maybe it’s crazy like a fox. Their accelerated browser is a full-on desktop browser running on a gigabit connection. It can load files and display them to you in the video stream faster than you can load them on your own device. And of course it has Flash. It’s certainly more capable than, say, Safari on iPad, but is it really better?

The problem is that the average consumption experience doesn’t really benefit from being streamed. Flash is rarely critical to use from a tablet (though it can be nice), and big attachments are often virtualized already – big PDFs and video files can be viewed or streamed online without a tedious download process. The few cases where a window into a high-speed but generic browser is better than the built-in one are probably overshadowed by the inevitable downsides of interacting with a virtual, video desktop: lag and occasional poor image quality.

You’ll have to shell out to give it a try; the iOS app is free and you can access productivity tools (if they have the spare bandwidth for you), but for the browser and desktop you’ll need to drop $5 per month. Soon you’ll also be able to pay $10 per month for extra space and custom desktop apps. It’s the beginning of something cool, but at the moment it seems a hard sell.