Amazon's desktop-as-a-service quietly comes to the iPad

Credit: Amazon Web Services

Why wait for Microsoft to roll out Office for iPad when you can get the full version of Office on your iPad via Amazon?

Amazon today quietly began offering an iPad app for WorkSpaces, its new service that offers a hosted, virtualized Windows desktop environment. Amazon unveiled the service recently at its Re:Invent conference but didn’t immediately offer the iPad app.

WorkSpaces is only available as a preview service for now, which means you can register your interest and Amazon will decide whether to invite you to use it.

Workspaces isn’t designed for individual users to sign up. Rather, a business would sign up for the service in order to offer workers access to Windows and Office via the device of their choice. The benefit is that because it’s a service, the business doesn’t have to manage the virtualization technology in house.

For end users, it means access to a full version of Office and Windows on an iPad, or other tablets like Kindles.

The downside is it’s Office 2010, so it’s not designed for touch.

Amazon has tried to add a few features to help iPad users without keyboards, but UI isn’t Amazon’s strong point so I wouldn’t expect the features to ease all the pain involved with trying to use a version of Office designed for a PC on an iPad. The features are accessible through a menu that pops up on screen allowing users to call up the on screen keyboard, choose a mouse mode, and instruct users on motions that simulate right and left clicking.

While there are a number of shortcomings to the preview version of this service, I expect this to be a hot space to watch. Amazon is known for updating its Web Services offerings at a break neck speed, so it’s reasonable to expect it to continually add capabilities that customers want. Plus, with its name recognition, Amazon has a good chance of invigorating the desktop virtualization market.

The concept of desktop as a service isn’t entirely new, but few very big names offer it directly. Citrix, for instance, offers technology that service providers use to offer hosted virtualized desktop services. It says it has 2,500 service provider customers that tend to be regional managed service providers or regional telcos.

VMware recently acquired Desktone, the company that trademarked the term “desktop as a service,” and said at least for now it plans to pursue a model like Citrix – offer the technology to other companies to deliver the service to users.

The entrance of Amazon and VMware should make this an interesting to market to watch. “Somebody must see dollar signs,” Ken Oestreich, senior director of product marketing for Citrix told CITEworld recently. “I’m hopeful that these new entrants into the supply side will have a positive effect on the demand side.”

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