Juha Saarinen: Microsoft embraces Android with Windows 11


The next-gen version of Microsoft’s desktop and laptop operating system, Windows 11, has broken cover. Unlike its predecessors, Windows 11 will launch into a very different world in which mobile devices rule the roost, and not PCs.

Google’s Android has overtaken Windows as the world’s most popular operating system, running on some 2.5 billion devices. Windows 10 in comparison hit 1.3 billion devices recently. That too is a massive number, but despite IT use exploding, Microsoft failed in mobile. Without mobile, Windows won’t match Android in popularity.

That big number of Androids out there looks tasty for Microsoft which is once again betting on an if you can’t beat them, join them strategy similar to when it embraced Linux in Windows.

To run Android apps on Windows, Microsoft has teamed up with Intel to use the latter’s Bridge Technology, which isn’t an emulator but post-compiler software.

It is needed because Android apps expect to talk to an ARM-architecture processor, and IBT lets you run them on Intel x86 PCs. All very chalk and cheese, but software developers have become better at making their code run on processors that are very different to one another which is a benefit for end users who won’t be tied up to any particular hardware.

We’ll see how well that works on Windows 11 over the next year or so, but interestingly enough, Intel competitor AMD isn’t left out in the cold and its processors will be supported by IBT too.

Intel reckons this “vastly expands mobile applications to run right on the PC”. That it does because prior to Windows 11 the number was closer to zero.

You’ll get those Android apps from the revamped Microsoft Store. It’s not the most exciting selection of Android apps currently, as Microsoft has partnered with Amazon to bring their App Store to Windows 11. Well, the ones that aren’t tied up to Google’s services at least.

Amazon App Store’s less than half a million apps looks like a puny number to Google Play that houses something like 3.4 million apps. It’s even less than the approximately 800,000 apps in the Microsoft Store, which is considered something of a failure.

Microsoft is keen to reanimate its app Store and is trying to lure developers by taking a lower cut of revenue, 15 per cent, than Apple which wants 30 per cent. Later on, Microsoft will also let developers take 100 per cent of app revenue, although this doesn’t appear to be across the board; already, games have been carved out.

App stores are popular with Android and Apple iOS users which form a captive audience. Developers however appear to be less keen on the idea of joining a walled garden where a giant global conglomerate sets the rules.

A couple of years ago, Microsoft said there were 35 million applications for Windows 10, a number that grows to 175 million if you count the different versions they come in.

Maybe the Android apps in the Microsoft Store gambit is a way to hedge bets and provide the best of both worlds for customers but the bigger Windows ecosystem is clearly where the action is centred by a large margin.

All important applications notwithstanding, an Apple-style migration from Windows 10 or older variants to Windows 11 might require buying a new computer. If you run a PC that’s older than five years, you might be a turkey for your Android on Windows hoojam unfortunately.

The minimum hardware specs have been upped but they’re still pretty modest for Windows 11 with a 1 gigahertz minimum speed processor, 4 gigabytes of memory, and the operating system now requiring 64 GB of storage space. The processor has to be a 64-bit one too, but 32-bit apps will continue to run in emulation on Windows 11.

Windows 11 showstoppers for older PCs include the need to have newish firmware, the code stored in read only memory that starts your computer with the correct settings for it. Unified Extensible Firmware Interface or UEFI is required, with the Secure Boot protection as well.

Some users with older PCs have noticed that Microsoft now wants their machines to contain Trusted Platform Module version 2.0, the cryptically named dedicated controller used to secure cryptography for digital software signatures and other things. TPM 1.2 will not hack it for Windows 11 installations.

Android apps on Windows 11 is a fresh idea, limited use as it is. Maybe in the not so distant future we’ll actually be able to write code once and run it everywhere? Oh wait, that’s Javascript in browsers. Never mind, as you were.

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