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The world is full of incompatibilities: oil and water, chalk and cheese, iPads and desktops. For the past few weeks, however, I have been testing a software app that aims to resolve the last of these incongruities by hooking my iPads up to my home and workplace desktops.
Apple has sold millions of iPads since they first went on sale in 2010. But while the full-size version and the iPad mini continue to dominate the tablet market they initiated, they have one big drawback. Because they operate on Apple’s iOS software, iPads cannot run many of the full-blown desktop apps designed for Windows machines or Apple Macs.
For example, iPads cannot run the desktop versions of Microsoft’s Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook), Intuit’s Quicken money management software, Adobe’s Photoshop or Apple’s own iTunes.
Parallels Access aims to overcome this limitation, enabling consumers to use the applications on their tablets as though they are using a desktop.
Access also allows iPad users to harness the much greater processing power and storage capacity of most desktops rather than relying on the iPad’s relatively puny hardware resources. This is important if, for example, you are accessing a big and complex Excel spreadsheet or manipulating large still images or video files.
This is not the first software app to provide remote access to desktops: several other programs – including some free or low-cost apps based on virtual network computing technology – are used by IT support staff and techies to access a remote desktop from an iPad. But Access is much easier to set up and use than any of the alternatives that I have tried.
The program includes features such as the ability to use “pinch and zoom” finger gestures and “drag and drop”, that are not available elsewhere. It also supports iPad-specific features such as the magnified circle that appears when you touch and hold your finger over an item on the screen – a very useful function if you are trying to click on a small icon in an Office app for example, or select text.
A toolbar that appears on the right of the iPad screen provides access to other features such as an onscreen keyboard that includes traditional Mac or Windows-specific keys not found on the iPad’s regular, screen-based keyboard.
Before you can start using Access, you need to download the main software app from Apple’s App store to your iPad, set up an online account with Parallels, then install the small client app on any desktop machines you want to access. The client app runs on Macs running OS X 10.8 or later, and any Windows-based machine running Windows 7 or later.
Provided you have a reasonably fast internet connection, and the remote desktops are powered up, when you start Parallels Access on your iPad the homepage displays a list of your remote PCs ready to access.
Once you choose the machine you want to control, the software establishes an encrypted connection and displays an iPad-style page of icons denoting the software installed on the desktop. Click on one of the icons and the desktop software fires up almost instantly.
During my testing over both mobile broadband and WiFi networks, I had virtually no connection problems and all the programs I tried ran on my iPad without difficulty.
The only problem arose when I tried to access my workplace Windows machine. The network security software at the office blocked my attempts to run apps remotely – but this is something that could be easily resolved by an IT department.
Overall, Access is impressive but I have a couple of caveats. First, the program is quite expensive. While new users can try the software for free for a limited period of time (14 days for Macs, 90 days for Windows because it is still a trial version), this is a subscription service that costs $80 a year (about £60).
Second, you are stymied if you forget to leave the remote PC powered up, and will need to adjust its setting to ensure it does not automatically go into sleep mode or shut down.
Nevertheless, Parallels Access has made my iPad mini more useful and enabled me to access software on my home-based machines that would not otherwise run on it.
In fact, using Access on my iPad mini, I have also been able to listen to music files and watch video clips running on my Windows and Mac desktops at home during my commute.
Planet of the Apps
Paul Taylor picks his favourite from the latest crop of apps.
What it is: Quip, free for iOS and Android mobile devices and desktops.
Why you should try it: It is a well-designed word-processor primarily for mobile devices that is easy to use, creates good-looking documents and enables collaboration by allowing more than one user to update them simultaneously, as well as easy switching between texts and documents.
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