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Is Microsoft Considering Windroid?

Tom Warren reported on The Verge yesterday that he’s been hearing some skinny that Microsoft is considering making some changes to Windows Phone to allow it to run Android apps. The same plan didn’t worked very well for Blackberry, but that was a company already on the ropes and the marketplace had pretty much already turned its back on the once coveted “Crackberry.”

Microsoft also has a phone nobody wants, but it still has high hopes.

HTC & Nokia Windows phonesMicrosoft understands the importance of apps. Apps are how it gained its grip on desktop computing. The company made it easy for software developers to write for MS DOS, thereby making it easy for users of “IBM compatible” computers to find needed programs, thereby creating a demand for desktop computers loaded with Microsoft’s finest. This strategy quickly brought DOS and then Windows to dominance on the PC, which Redmond proceeded to parlay into a monopoly.

In The Verge article, Warren points out that Android is in much the same position now on mobile as Microsoft was in early 1990s on the desktop.

“Android is the mobile equivalent of Windows on desktop PCs — it’s everywhere. That growth shows no signs of stopping, and it represents a huge blockade for Microsoft’s mobile efforts across multiple market segments.”

There’s just one problem with the notion of opening up Windows Phone to run Android apps: Android apps are designed to run on Android. Anyone who’s ever run Word on Linux atop Wine know that the program isn’t nearly as responsive as it is running natively on Windows. The same would be true running Android apps on a Windows device. Microsoft might be able to get apps from Google Play to perform “good enough” on Windows, but there would be a noticeable performance difference in a side-by-side comparison with Android.

This is a most interesting dilemma for Microsoft, as it now finds itself in the same position as IBM did twenty years ago when it was trying to sell OS/2 in a world already sold on Windows.

If Microsoft were to make this move, modifying its OS so it can run Android apps and offering them on the Windows Store, it would only be hoping to level the playing field a bit by being able to offer consumers the same apps as Android. Such a plan would be doomed from the onset, however. Just as Redmond went to great lengths to protect its market position when it was a de facto monopoly, Google isn’t going to stand by and let Microsoft eat into its market share by using Android apps as a springboard. Nor is Samsung.

I suspect that if this were to happen we’d see Google, Samsung and other Android players go to war on several fronts. Certainly there would be some patent battles to be played out in the courts and we could definitely expect to be bombarded with advertising campaigns reminiscent of the Mac vs PC campaigns conducted by Apple not so many years back.

If Microsoft really wants to steal market share on the back of someone else’s work, Android is not the platform to exploit. Nor is iOS. It should look to Firefox OS, where apps are built using HTML 5, a standard that’s free for all to use. Because of the relative simplicity of porting apps to Mozilla’s OS, I suspect there will be plenty of apps for the platform much quicker than anyone currently expects.

It would be easy for Microsoft to make Firefox apps run natively on its own phones. All that would be needed is a browser that speaks HTML 5 fluently. Even Microsoft should be able to handle that.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux.

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4 comments to Is Microsoft Considering Windroid?

  • Highly doubtful. Microsoft’s entire business is about locking you in to their OS. It’ll be a cold day in Hell when Microsoft bases their OS on HTML5 or their Games API entirely on OpenGL.

    If you don’t know, it was Microsoft who set out to destroy OpenGL by inventing DirectX. Leaving only a stripped-down version in Windows 95/98. Talk about Human Rights violations, Microsoft makes their money by enslaving you.

    I broke free of my chains in October 2012 with Xubuntu, my first taste of fresh air was as sweet as the flowers in June.

  • WorBlux

    Jolla and Tizen ar other platforms adopting HTML has the standard interface.

    But I think the plan will backfire on Microsoft for the most part. Why should a developer bother with .NET and windows when thier dalvik and adroid version runs just fine on microsoft phones.

    Office and exchange on the touch interface really isn’t the killer app they think it is.

    Also I don’t think performance would be a huge issue. Either was the application are almost all dalvik machine bytecode, where you take a similar performance hit on whatever platform your choose to run it on.

  • W. Anderson

    If Microsoft produces a smartphone with Windows 8 mobile and a ‘restricted’ Android that can only connect to Microsoft/Nokia services, and not any of the 1 million plus ‘native’ Android Apps, then it becomes clear that the company is banking on most the buyers purchasing “because”of Android lure, but eventually moving to full Windows Mobile8 only platform thereafter.

    I have no doubt that there are indeed millions of potential buyers for such hybrid kludge, primarily in USA where Microsoft and Bill Gates still enjoy great support and admiration, particularly since Mr. Gates is reputed to be “the richest Man in the world” according to most Americans. This market approach however, rightfully assumes that a significant proportion of the Mobile buying public are simple-minded and naive enough to not discern between a rich “Android” experience and a gimmick to persuade them to change.

    Mobile purchasers in most of the rest of the world are not quite so gullible and poor at sensible decision making . as shown in several International mobile sales reports, and will continue to move on away from the Redmond shenanigans.

  • MDW

    Like Mike – I broke away from Win Desktops & Apps nearly two years ago and there is no looking back. I have no need for any MS in my office and/or home computing networks.

    MDW