Gaming company OnLive (see our 2010 review of their streaming games service) recently launched a service bringing a Windows 7 desktop, complete with Microsoft Office 2010, to iPad and Android tablets. The free app, which also has a subscription service with features designed for both consumers and enterprises, gives iPad users access to the real version of Microsoft Office—not just to a program compatible with Office files. It also has the ability to run Adobe Flash content in Internet Explorer.
There's just one problem: Microsoft says it's not properly licensed. The software giant is apparently asking OnLive for some cash in exchange for the right to continue the service, which is still working today.
"We are actively engaged with OnLive with the hope of bringing them into a properly licensed scenario, and we are committed to seeing this issue is resolved," said Microsoft's Joe Matz, VP of worldwide licensing and pricing, in a blog post today. OnLive Desktop launched for the iPad on January 10 of this year. An Android tablet version was released a week ago.
Microsoft has licensing options for partners who want to provide Windows in virtual desktop settings, but those options apparently don't cover the OnLive service as it exists today. Hosted instances of Windows 7 can be provided in a virtual desktop infrastructure setting when the end users—the people using the desktops—have licenses from Microsoft, Matz writes.
Additionally, hosting vendors with Microsoft's Service Provider License Agreement (SPLA) "may bring some desktop-like functionality as a service by using Windows Server and Remote Desktop Services." Using the SPLA lets vendors offer the desktop-like service to any customers, even if they don't have licenses to Windows. But OnLive's service doesn't qualify, Microsoft said. "SPLA does not support delivery of Windows 7 as a hosted client or provide the ability to access Office as a service through Windows 7. Office may only be provided as a service if it is hosted on Windows Server and Remote Desktop Services."
The Windows 7 instance provided by OnLive includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2010, in an almost-complete Windows 7 desktop. One thing it seems to be missing is the ability to check the Windows 7 license status. However, users can check the Office 2010 license. That has a product key and states that the software is licensed to "OnLive Desktop User" and "OnLive Desktop Service."
The analyst firm Gartner questioned whether OnLive's service meets Microsoft licensing terms on February 29, stating that "OnLive has not disclosed to us how it is complying with Microsoft licensing." Gartner also noted that Microsoft has not provided clear guidance on how users of such products must comply with Microsoft licensing requirements. It's possible users might end up having to pay Microsoft.
"Gartner believes that there's also a risk that Microsoft could hold both OnLive and its customers responsible for any potential mislicensing," the analyst group said.
Brian Madden, who writes extensively about desktop virtualization, wrote that "based on everything we know about Microsoft licensing, this [the OnLive service] should be in clear violation of Microsoft's policies." Further, Madden writes that other vendors are "crying foul" over OnLive's ability to provide virtual desktops to customers without requiring the users to buy their own licenses. The vendors say "it's hard for them to compete against a company who apparently doesn't have to license Microsoft products like the rest of the world does," Madden wrote.
It's been rumored that Microsoft is working on an Office application for the iPad. In the meantime, OnLive isn't the only vendor trying to fill the Office gap on the device. A company called Nivio is promising Windows and Office access on the iPad and many other devices, but the service hasn't launched yet. Nivio's announcement doesn't mention licensing, but the model seems a bit different from OnLive's. It will possibly require users to pay for the right to use the software. Applications such as Office will be available through an app store, and "users pay for the software and storage they need, as they need it," Nivio said.