Welcome to the DMZ where the world’s two most ubiquitous operating systems meet and eye each other warily. It’s a place where the future platform battles are being shaped.
Microsoft may have sidelined its effort to allow Android apps to run unmodified on Windows 10. But Windows users have been able to do this on PCs for over a year at very low cost - thanks to a cunning virtualization project.
DuOS, or AmiDuOS, is an emulator that provides excellent compatibility for Android apps on the desktop. And perhaps unsurprisingly it survived an interesting history of tussles with Google before staking its claim.
It hails from a name familiar to any PC user in the beige era of personal computing in the 1980s and 1990s: American Megatrends Inc. When your DOS machine crashed, and it frequently did, the odds were AMI would be the first thing you’d see as it rebooted. The company is still the largest BIOS vendor today.
AmiDuOS is a lightweight download that contains a full Android image, with Lollipop as the guest, and Windows – up to Windows 10 – as the host. Surprisingly, it supports graphics acceleration and native ARM extensions to Android apps.
I spoke to the project’s father, AMI’s VP of engineering, Govind Kothandapani, and head of marketing, Terry Otsubo, to find out more.
Originally the plan was to bundle Android into tablets and notebooks, but Otsubo tells us, “That didn’t go too well.”
“Google weren’t too keen on letting that happen,” he said. AMI fell foul of the restrictions Google places – by proxy – on Android compatibility. Instead AMI decided to try and enter the B2C market and sell DuOS online.
“What we did is put a full Android stack on Windows, but completely compartmentalized. And we did this without changing the basic structure of Android so much. We kept it intact so when a newer version comes out, we can come up with quick updates,” Kothandapani told us, adding: “We only emulate the code that needs to be emulated.”
DuOS even passes some of the Google compatibility tests. It just can’t call itself an Android OS.
“We went through all these and even today some of the are part of our test cycles. I wouldn’t say we’re 100 per cent compatible but pretty close to that,” said Kothandapani.
Today the app comes with an Amazon app store, so you’re up and running. As well as developers and gamers, AMI has found a market amongst verticals who use specialist Android apps but have to operate in a regulated environment. The AmiDuOS sandbox is ideal.
AMI cites a hospital where the doctors use Android apps but where Android is banned.
If this is the shape of things to come, it poses some intriguing strategic questions for Microsoft. Microsoft risks losing the developer client base that it has been able to take for granted for two decades. Windows has a huge app gap, and is marginal in mobile and tablets. Ideally, Microsoft wants developers to write to a Universal API that is compatible across Windows PCs and ARM-based mobile devices such as tablets and phones. But the apps have already been written, in Java, for Android.
So some tough choices lie ahead. Microsoft could ensure that Windows remains ubiquitous, but at the cost of its developer base, while welcoming in Android apps through the door.
AMI tells me that the DuOS is strictly x86 for now, and there are no plans to port it to ARM. But with Intel revving up low power x86 again, and Microsoft rumoured to be producing an x86 phone with Intel inside, the boundary is being blurred. We’ll have Android on Windows mobile devices – and there isn’t a great deal that Google or Microsoft can do to stop it. ®
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