OnLive brings cloud-based Windows apps to the iPad

Just about 18 months ago, OnLive revolutionized gaming by putting processing in the cloud and streaming popular — and resource-intensive — games to PCs, Macs and, most recently, a whole new class of mobile and tablet devices. Now it’s looking to revolutionize enterprise productivity software with an app that will stream popular Windows applications to low-powered devices. That begins with the introduction of OnLive Desktop, a free iPad app that allows anyone to use full-featured versions of Microsoft Word (s msft) and other desktop applications on the Apple tablet. (s AAPL)

The introduction of OnLive Desktop means iPad users will now have access to full-featured versions of popular and powerful Windows PC applications. The application, available free from the iTunes App Store, runs virtualized versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint software on its data centers in the cloud.

The OnLive Desktop app fulfills the dream of cloud computing that many hoped would someday come, through which processing happens in the network rather than on the device. That means that devices no longer need to have high-end CPUs or memory to handle business-class applications. For instance, with the release of the OnLive app, the iPad could for the first time be seen as a potential laptop replacement for business users who need more powerful and feature-rich productivity software than is currently available on the tablet.

Since applications are running on high-end computing clusters in OnLive’s data centers, the only thing holding back performance is the network. Which means that in today’s world of pervasive broadband connectivity, Windows applications running on an iPad could potentially be faster than those running on a standard Windows 7 laptop.

OnLive is making the Desktop app available in a freemium model through which users will get 2GB worth of cloud storage and the ability to use Windows 7 applications such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint, as well as other utilities and games. Documents can be stored in the cloud and accessed from any device with a web interface. In the near future, OnLive expects to launch Onlive Desktop Pro, a more robust service that will offer up 50 GB of storage, priority access, additional apps and other features for $9.99 a month. It also promises collaboration features for enterprise users such as sharing documents or working on virtual whiteboards.

The company also plans to extend well beyond the iPad, with apps for Android smartphones and tablets, (s GOOG) as well as support for streaming apps to the PC, Mac and TV support through its OnLive MicroConsole thin client.

OnLive Desktop is not the only way to run Windows apps on iPads. Last fall, Iongrid introduced Nexus,¬†enterprise software that promises to let corporate users stream their Microsoft Office applications securely — and with high fidelity — to their iPads.