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BW Businessworld

Finally, Meet The Cloud

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They say it all the time: tablets are only good for consumption, not creation. And phones are only good for tapping out a bit of email. For one, you cannot type as you are used to doing. Keys are not spread out enough and you cannot even spill your coffee in peace. For another, the software just is not there. True, you have no end of notepads and to-do apps, but where are Word and Excel and Photoshop? And where is the familiarity of Windows?

Well, if your device has a browser, and you have a keyboard, you are in luck. Add to that a VGA-out cable to connect to a television or monitor, and you are in business. With these, and a promising cloud-based platform called nivio, you can access Windows and a bouquet of 120 applications (increasing 10 per day) on any device — that means the iPad, Mac, Android devices, Chromebook and others that have a browser supporting HTML5.

We have been talking about software in the cloud for years. But other than services to major corporations, they have not touched the individual user. Nivio comes out of over two years of beta to offer the operating system, desktop, storage and applications from its app store.

You register with nivio via your browser. You get a unique URL and 10GB of space free to begin with. So, yes, you can use it as your cloud storage if you choose. Next, you find that there are three parts to the platform. First, nDrive — the online storage and synchronisation app. It lets you sync all your data to all your devices, simultaneously. When you make a change in one place, it replicates on all devices. Nivio says it sends only the changes, so this saves bandwidth and time. You can work on a file at one place, leave it open and go off and resume elsewhere. There is a client to download, upload, share and manage files from anywhere.

The next and more impressive chunk is the nDesktop. You log in with the browser or an app, your device turns into a Windows 7 desktop. I was tickled to find my iPad sport a Windows desktop, complete with touch-cursor. On this desktop, you can put in applications from the third part: nApps in the nCentre or the app store. Some apps are free, some can be rented. As a user, you have different usage plans and once in, you just log in to access everything. For students, it is Rs 80 a month for a 10-hour plan and Rs 225 for unlimited. For everyone else, it is Rs 250 and Rs 600. For small businesses, with additional functionality including a virtual network, it's Rs 875 per user per month for unlimited usage.

Nivio has just been launched in the US and comes to in India on 5 April. But nivio has had a partnership with Airtel to offer nDrive and an online desktop since 2009. We do not know how many customers took the service as this was a beta, but they say the partnership helped them develop the market.

The guys at nivio are aiming at several customer segments for their service. How about people who have really old machines? Say you have a bunch of old computers at the office and you are not interested in upgrading them, but they are not exactly throwaways. Use them for temporary tasks and projects, accessing heavyweight applications through nivio. You can even run the most recent versions of everything on an old PC because these are not being installed on the machine and demanding better hardware.

Another lot who will find nivio a practical solution are those who cannot afford Windows, MS Office and much of the other software. Students could fall into that category. Anyone who works on multiple devices will also find nivio both convenient and cost-saving. Instead of buying several versions of software for a hefty sum, you rent it and it is tied to you, not the device you are using. I was able to see the entire suite working at a good speed pre-launch, but how the service holds up given our connectivity will only be clear after rollout. The access to Windows and applications is perfectly legit. It works in a partnership between nivio and Microsoft under the Service Provider License Agreement. It is not actually Windows 7 directly that you use, but Windows 2008 R2 Server delivering a Windows 7-like experience.

Nivio has some competition from two services launched recently: OnLive and CloudOn, both are yet to arrive in Asia. OnLive caused a big stir when it offered Windows, Microsoft Office and Adobe Reader on the iPad and Android tablets with 2GB of storage. No other applications, however. CloudOn brings Microsoft Office to the iPad. Sachin Dev Duggal, founder and CEO of nivio, says this validates the concept and the space. And it's a space for which he has many more plans, moving on from what happens to be a world first.

mala(at)pobox(dot)com, (at)malabhargava on Twitter

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 02-04-2012)