Windows users might dismiss Apple’s new ultra-light, ultra-sleek iPad as just another frivolous toy for Mac heads.
But add remote-computing software and services, and the iPad’s combination of light weight and nicely sized screen makes Apple’s pad a dandy Windows terminal.
I’m writing this story on my iPad, using Microsoft Word for Windows 2007 that’s actually running on my home-office desktop PC. I’ve pulled off this stunt thanks to the handful of remote computing apps designed to work with iPad (and iPhone). Yes, I can have my Apple cake and Windows, too.
Even Adobe Flash, which Steve Jobs declared persona non grata on iPads and iPhones, now has a place on the iPad screen. Flash videos don’t run well (due to the slow screen refresh rates typical of remote-control software), but they do run. Even with a strong Wi-Fi signal, Flash videos were choppy at best.
The ingredients for this Windows/iPad trick are a PC that’s left on, remote-control software on the iPad and PC, and a good Wi-Fi or 3G connection.
To see just how effectively Windows runs on an iPad, I put a trio of iPad-compatible, remote-computing applications LogMeIn, Wyse Technology’s Pocket Cloud, and iTeleport for iPad through their paces. All of these products are a bit more expensive (U.S. $15 to $30) than your usual 99-cent iPad app but for business use, that’s still cheap.
Remote computing has been around for decades, of course, but its move to mobile devices is a recent phenomenon enabled by the relatively large screens and the Internet connections of smartphones. Possible, yes but not necessarily practical.
The iPad, with its 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display, 1024-by-768-pixel resolution, and high-performance processor, meets the requirements for practical remote computing. And this story, mostly written from the iPad, is proof that it works.
Ignite simple and cheap remote computing
The U.S. $30 LogMeIn Ignition for iPhone/iPad (info page) will connect to any number of PCs or Macs on which you’ve installed a small, and free, enabling application. (Ignition also works on the iTouch.)
Installing Ignition was brain-dead simple I was banging out the notes for this story, using Word for Windows, in about five minutes. There are no firewall or router settings to work through, and my remote-control sessions were protected with 256-bit SSL encryption.
Using the iPad and my digital writing tablet took a bit of adaptation. I started out with the device’s internal software keyboard but later attached Apple’s external Bluetooth keyboard. (At this time, the iPad does not have native support for Apple’s Bluetooth mouse, but a Google search lists a bunch of iPad–mouse hacks.)
Navigating the Windows screen on the iPad took more adjustment. To move the Windows cursor, you drag your finger across the iPad display. Once the cursor is positioned, a tap or double-tap anywhere on the iPad display works in lieu of the usual Windows click/double-click.
Ignition adjusts the PC display to fit on the iPad (which can make Windows apps and documents look uncomfortably small), but the simple iPad two-finger pinch zooms objects larger or smaller, as needed. Other finger movements handle mouse right-clicks and scrolling. Alas, there seems to be no way to highlight a body of text to delete it, move it, or reformat it which puts a crimp in your document editing.
LogMeIn handshakes your connection through its servers. The basic LogMeIn account is free, but for business applications, the $70 Pro account adds more PC-to-remote PC tasks such as remote-to-local printing and drag-and-drop file transfers. Since the iPad software does not support file transfers, the free account suffices quite well.