Samsung hints at a new life for Windows as an Android app

Performance could be one obstacle, though.

Samsung has filed for a patent covering a mobile device that could run a second operating system via virtualization. While that’s nothing new for the PC industry, it’s the accompanying illustration that’s intriguing: an Android phone running virtualized Windows apps.

The Samsung patent application, reported on SamMobile and MSPowerUser, covers all sorts of digital devices, according to Samsung: smartphones, tablet PCs, notebook computers, and more. (The patent, filed in Korean, was translated via the Korean Intellectual Property Office’s machine translation system.)

“In this specification, the case where as an example, the first operating system is the android, the second operating system is the window (Windows) is shown,” the patent’s translation reads. But the patent also makes clear than any OS could be used, including Tizen, Linux, or MacOS.

In the world conceived by the patent, the host OS would run the device, and the secondary OS would be run essentially as an app. The user would be able to control the secondary OS via the touchscreen and hardware like a mouse and keyboard, and the secondary OS would be able to run its own programs.

That’s nothing unusual for the PC, where virtualization is a tried-and-true way of “sandboxing” apps and operating systems to try out their capabilities within an isolated environment. Windows 10, for example, contains an integrated Bash shell to virtualize a Linux environment within the Windows OS.

On the PC, however, Linux has but a 2 percent market share, according to Net Applications, while Windows powers over 90 percent of the world’s PCs. In the mobile space, the situation is reversed: Android, which is based on Linux, powers the vast majority of Windows devices, while Windows 10 Mobile has shriveled to less than 1 percent.

It’s not clear whether Android users actually want a full-fledged Windows environment running within their smartphone, especially when so many of Microsoft’s apps and services already run natively on Android and iOS. But factor in legacy Win32 apps, and the concept becomes intriguing.

Although Microsoft is working busily with its ”Project Centennial” app bridge to port Win32 apps to its UWP platform, potentially hundreds of thousands to millions of apps remain as “legacy” Win32 apps, including line-of-business apps that are specific to just one company. Those would all benefit from a smartphone that could run both platforms.

HP has already put this into place, after a fashion. HP’s Elite x3 smartphone, which began shipping Monday, ships with “HP Workspace,” a virtualized app environment that stores and runs legacy Win32 apps. The difference is that the Elite x3 runs Windows 10 Mobile natively, and runs the Win32 apps from the cloud, not from a virtualized partition on the phone.

Why this matters: Samsung’s patent suggests a more interesting future: combining the most popular smartphone OS with the most popular PC OS, directly on the device. Even if it comes to pass, however, there will still be issues to solve. A key one will be performance, as virtualized apps usually don’t have access to the full slate of hardware resources otherwise used by the host OS, and thus run slower and less effectively. Still, millions of users continue to turn to PCs, rather than their Android devices, to get intensive work done. A virtualized Windows space would help narrow that gap.

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Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
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