Mainframe2 runs super-powerful Windows apps in the cloud

My friend Nikola Bozinovic (say that three times fast) is a very sharp software developer originally from Serbia who has, over the years, worked for most of the usual suspect American software companies. He is also the guy who restored from a grotty old VHS tape my film Steve Jobs — The Lost Interview. And as of this week he’s the CEO of Mainframe2, an exciting startup strutting its stuff at the DEMO conference in Santa Clara.

Mainframe2 claims it can put almost any Windows application into the cloud, making apps usable from any device that can run a web browser supporting html5. We’re talking Photoshop and AutoCAD on your iPad. This is a big deal.

Normally moving an app from a PC to a server and then virtualizing it in the cloud is a multistep process that can take weeks or months to get running smoothly but Nikola says Mainframe2 can do the job in about 10 minutes. The application code runs across many virtual machines in the cloud and -- this is especially important -- supports nVIDIA’s virtual GPU standard, so graphics performance is especially strong. And that’s the point, because it’s graphically-intensive apps like video editing that Mainframe2 will be targeting from the start when its service becomes commercially available later this fall.

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Here’s what I find exciting about this. First, it’s cross-platform. The apps are (so far) all Windows, but the user can be on a Mac or anything else that supports html5. Next Mainframe2 appears to use an application rental model. I use Photoshop maybe six times per year so renting makes a lot more sense than owning. Renting the software I can pay a few dollars rather than hundreds. I don’t have to worry about keeping the application current. I don’t even need a powerful computer, since all the crunching takes place in the cloud.

Need 100 virtual GPUs for your iPhone? Okay.

If I used Photoshop all day every day of course I’d want my own local copy, but even then I can see emergencies happening where being able to edit on a smart phone might save the day.

VentureBeat wrote about Mainframe2 an hour or so ago and they complained about latency. It’s probably there but as an idiot I just don’t care that much and Nikola says it won’t be noticeable by the time the service is widely available. I believe him and here’s why. Mainframe2 sends the screen image as an H.264 video stream, so there’s some challenge to encode commands going in one direction, run the app, then send encoded video back. But that’s nothing compared to Nikola’s last job which was processing commands from pilots sitting in Oklahoma flying Predator drones in Afghanistan then cleaning-up the return video signal so the pilots could see what they were shooting at, all in real time of course and over a multi-link satellite connection.

Compared to that, remote AutoCAD is easy.

Mainframe2 is a form of remote computing but it isn’t VNC or RDP, it isn’t VMware or Citrix, it’s something totally new that can scale power like crazy (as many CPUs and GPUs as you like) which those others can’t. I wonder what people will end up doing with it? Because I’m sure this will tap a vein of creativity in the user community.

I wonder, too, whether the software vendors will love it or hate it? Probably both. Remember this application-in-a-browser idea was what turned Bill Gates and Microsoft against Netscape in the mid-1990s.

Of course all is blissful when it’s still a demo rather than a shipping service, but there is very solid technology here that deserves a look.

And no, I don’t own any shares in the company, though I wish I did.

Reprinted with permission

Image Credit: Khakimullin Aleksandr/Shutterstock

4 Responses to Mainframe2 runs super-powerful Windows apps in the cloud

  1. WP7Mango says:

    That does sound very interesting. However, I wonder how licensing would be handled for all those cloud-based applications.

  2. neonspark says:

    remember the failed company on-live? same story and no, you don't wish you owned that company as they failed in a grand scale just as they did.
    this is no different from the amazon cloud, Rackspace, or azure VMs where you can already setup a VM as powerful as you want, slap all the windows software you want and run it. Heck if you have a decent internet connection, just connect to your powerful PC at home.
    the real difference is the managed hosted nature of this, and such a thing is not unique as noted there are hosting services for VMs from many companies and RDP clients for all platforms.
    however the issue at hand is lag. the tablets being non windows devices can never match the real time performance on the field of say, a surface pro, or intel based baytrail tablet as doing things like video editing require tremendous bandwidth just to preview the work. In fact most video editing done on tablets is not the kind that requires a server farm to render, but various trims and edits which could be done on most mobile devices, except for the ipad/android lacking any powerful editors, as well as a proper windowed desktop environment.
    the fact remains streaming the UI from the cloud works ok for things like word and excel, but when editing a full HD 30fps video, working with 36MP Nikon D800 raws, better grab your surface pro/ultrabook instead as any performance gains from the cloud will be offset by lag and color inaccuracies, and unbearable lag due to compression algorithms and normal internet lag, rendering this technology worthless for the professional editor...and oh, did I mention how it doesn't work when you're offline unlike say, your surface pro/ultrabook would?
    Then there is licensing. you still have to buy a windows license (as on-live found out), an license all the apps you install there as a separate PC. depending on the software, you may be talking hundreds of dollars on top of your home and mobile systems.
    we've see this before and just google the spectacular crash of on live to know the truth: if you want to enjoy the vast x86 windows app super ecosystem of software and peripherals and devices, get a windows system. They're cheap, fast and more importantly: yours.

  3. M M says:

    (Mainframe2 claims it can put almost any Windows application into the
    cloud, making apps usable from any device that can run a web browser
    supporting html5.)

    Could this work the other way too? Able to put ios and android apps in the cloud making them usable for Windows 8/WP8 users?

  4. GeraldGibson says:

    Last I saw Microsoft did not allow people to setup a rental service for Windows application / Desktops ... this is something Microsoft is working on themselves for the near future.

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