Mainframe2 Launches Graphics Application Streaming Service

We first covered Mainframe2 in October of last year, when it startled the graphics world with its claim that it could allow people to run Photoshop as fast, if not faster, than a regular desktop installation by streaming it with any HTML5-capable browser. And with no plugins or pesky client software; just a browser, running on a PC or Mac, Chromebook, tablet or smart phone. It was even possible to share sessions, with multiple users seeing the same desktop app and being able to share the mouse and keyboard (this is shown at work within Photoshop, in the clip below). We participated in the brief demo period and were amazed that it actually worked, although the response was sluggish. But speed relies on the proximity of the nearest available server and for the demo, these were in short supply.

Streaming Photoshop was simply a proof of concept, with the firm claiming that, "Even high end, workstation class applications that require dedicated GPUs, such as advanced 2D and 3D design and visualization software, can be delivered with complete fidelity to a variety of endpoints."

Just to keep things interesting, in August of this year graphics firm OTOY announced its X.IO App Streaming service, which like Mainframe2 moves Windows apps to the cloud, stating that it's "built from the ground up to handle the demanding nature of graphics-intensive applications, including image editing, CAD, and 3D modeling and rendering applications." Things heated up even more when last month Adobe announced Project Photoshop Streaming, now in beta, with the streaming provided by no less than Google. This makes perfect sense for Google, since it's working hard to show that its Chromebooks can be used for serious work. Running Photoshop proves the point so well that it could bump Chromebook sales. Google also wins because Photoshop will work directly with Google Drive, helping legitimize it for creatives.

Now Mainframe2 is back in the news, with the announcement that its service has launched, such that "developers and independent software vendors (ISVs) can instantly transform their Windows desktop software into software as a service and deliver it to users everywhere." Beyond simply offering application streaming, the service now also provides onboarding, orchestration, app store and ecommerce layers, as well as connection to third-party services, such as Dropbox, as part of a single comprehensive architecture.

So what does it all mean? At the moment, perhaps nothing, unless you're using an application that a developer, such as nuPSYS or Configura, is making available through the service (Adobe is apparently a customer, so who knows?). But beyond that, Mainframe2 is now taking applications for its Early Access Program, which is open to educational and business organizations. The educational sector would certainly seem to be a fit for this approach, since according to founder Nikola Bozinovic, who kindly responded to our questions, no permission is required from a developer to simply embed a Windows application in a web page, as long as license compliance is being maintained.

And the benefits from this approach extend to businesses, including agencies and design shops. According to Nikola, "There is a huge benefit for schools/businesses in being able to provision (and de-provision) software and workstations (in this case virtual). People can work faster, from any device (including Chromebooks and tablets) enabling BYOD models. They can also collaborate — all without having to buy new hardware or spending any money up front. This model is especially useful for geographically distributed teams. Right now, in order to do this, organizations need to use VDI, which is slow, expensive and difficult to maintain. Mainframe2 is an easy way to solve this problem."

But what about individual users? Nikola tells us that they "plan to have the product on the market for this audience but with no set date for now." It seems to us that whether you're an educational institution, business (think design agency, CAD shop, architectural studio) or individual, there's no downside to signing up to request access to the Early Access Program. Since in our view the future of running graphics applications in the browser has clearly arrived and Mainframe2 is well positioned to be a major player. Meanwhile, if you simply want to try out the service, you can currently run Google Earth without first having to download and install it.