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Will Android kill Windows 8 on the desktop?

August 8, 2012

Steven Vaughan-Nichols had a very interesting column up recently about the development of multi-user support on Android as a possible precursor to a desktop version.

I strongly suspect we’ll see multi-user support introduced in Android 5. Experts expect the new Android to arrive in 2012′s 4th quarter. I expect Android 5 to show up on new Android handsets and tablets. I also expect Google to backport it to its wildly popular Nexus 7 tablet. 

 That will be great for users who share tablets, but what I really wonder if Google will decide to finally offer an Android desktop offering of its own. In particular, I wonder if Google will at long last combine its Chrome OS, which is just the Chrome browser running on a thin-layer of Linux, with Android for a new desktop operating system. 

 Think about it. Chrome now runs on Android. I like Chromebooks, but for every Chrome OS user there’s already hundreds of Android users. At the same time, Microsoft is fumbling its Windows 8 introduction, if ever there was a time for Google to introduce an Android desktop, this is the time.

I know that many people don’t consider Android to be “pure” Linux in the way that they might consider distributions like Linux Mint, Ubuntu, etc. but the possibility is quite intriguing.

There are millions and millions of people using Android on their smartphones, and even some that are using it on tablets. What would happen if there was a version of Android released for the desktop?

Windows 8: Microsoft’s Waterloo on the Desktop?
The desktop version of Windows 8 has received some…er…strong responses from those who have used it in beta. Many people find the Metro interface on the desktop to be a pernicious pain in the ass, and think it might be one of Microsoft’s biggest mistakes yet. Some are saying that it’s even worse than Windows Vista, while others are vowing to stay with Windows 7 for as long as they can.

I see very little positive commentary about Windows 8 on the desktop. I’ve used it myself and I really hated Metro. I was shocked that Microsoft would try to glom a tablet interface onto its desktop operating system. I can understand careful integration between the two, the way that Apple has been doing it with iOS and OS X, but not the bizarre way Windows 8 has been set up.

Windows 8 could open up a huge opportunity for Google and Android.

Google’s Patent Hints at Desktop Android
An intriguing clue to Google’s future plans was discovered by the Patently Apple site.

A recent patent filing by Google surprisingly indicates that they’re seriously eying the desktop and notebook markets for Android. Interestingly, the patent seems to focus on similar capabilities now found in Apple’s Multi-Touch Trackpad and Magic Trackpad. In many ways that’s understandable considering that Google is working on the Android for x86 project along with a serious list of other Intel-Android related projects. Android is headed for the desktop and today’s report lays out Google’s specific work on trackpad operations corresponding to touchscreen events. 

Google Patent for Android on the Desktop

Google Patent for Android on the Desktop

This patent filing indicates serious interest on Google’s part for taking on Microsoft head to head on the desktop.

What an absolute disaster it would be for Microsoft if Google releases a version of Android for PCs. Microsoft is already in hot water with many of its business partners because of its Surface tablet initiative. Companies like Acer are not happy that Microsoft might be directly competing with them in the tablet space:

Speaking to the Financial Times, JT Wang said “We have said [to Microsoft] think it over. Think twice. It will create a huge negative impact for the ecosystem and other brands may take a negative reaction. It is not something you are good at so please think twice.”

Campbell Kan, Acer’s president for personal computer global operations, also told the FT that the Taiwanese company was “debating internally” how to respond to the new Surface tablet and considering what further challenges Microsft might pose. “If Microsoft … is going to do hardware business, what should we do? Should we still rely on Microsoft, or should we find other alternatives?,” Mr Kan said.

Android on the PC offers them a real alternative to Windows. Many of Microsoft’s partners might at least consider releasing Android based PCs. Why not? If Microsoft is going to compete with them in the hardware space, then it makes sense for them to have an alternative operating system with a potential user base of millions of people.

What About Other Distros?
It seems clear that Android on the PC could be a huge punch in the face for Microsoft, but what about existing Linux distributions? How would Android affect Ubuntu, Linux Mint and the other distros we’ve all come to know and love? While I’d like to think that Android for the PC would be a positive thing for Linux overall, I suppose it would depend on how Google implemented it.

If Google makes Android somewhat akin to Apple’s “walled garden” situation with OS X then I don’t think that other Linux distributions have much to worry about. Linux users tend to want freedom to install software from any source, and they want direct control over that software. A “walled garden” version of Android would draw immediate suspicion and disgust from many Linux users.

On the other hand, if Google leaves Android open enough then I think it could be seriously considered by some current Linux users. Would we see a big migration away from Linux Mint, Ubuntu and other distributions? Probably not initially, but if Android was good enough then I think it has the potential to eclipse the other distros as time goes by and more people become aware of it.

Will Android Survive Apple’s Legal Onslaught?
Apple and Google are locked in mortal legal combat these days over Android. Apple sees it as theft of its intellectual property, and it’s pursuing every legal means at its disposal to destroy Android. This quote from the late Steve Jobs summed up Apple’s perspective on Android:

“I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

So Apple is clearly not fooling around. It’s not possible to know what will be the ultimate effect (if any) on Android until all of the litigation has happened. But the legal battles do make me wonder if Google won’t run into similar roadblocks on the desktop, especially if desktop Android bears *any* resemblance to eitheriOS or OS X.

Apple is not going to stop or slow down in the court room. So we’ll have to wait and see if Android survives over the long haul.

Final Thoughts
The possibility of Android on the desktop is something worth noting. I love the idea of more desktop competition, it forces developers to make things better or lose market share to competitors.

Google also already has desktop experience with its Chrome OS, though Chrome OS has not taken off in the way that Android might if it’s released for PCs. I’m sure though that Google will be leveraging their Chrome OS experiences for a desktop version of Android.

Android currently has millions and millions of users in the smartphone and tablet space. If even half of them switched to it on the desktop, Microsoft could have a gigantic disaster on its hands as millions of users defect from Windows en masse.

I sure wouldn’t want to own any Microsoft stock if that happens. Ouch!

What’s your take on this? Will we ever see Android released for the desktop? Tell me in the comments below.


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25 Responses to Will Android kill Windows 8 on the desktop?

  1. IGnatius T Foobar on April 8, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    Here is how Google can take over the desktop in very short order.

    Make a full Android runtime available that runs *within* Windows, Mac OS, and Desktop Linux. Deployment within the Chrome browser would likely be the most straightforward path to this.

    It’s really that simple. When the entire Android ecosystem is deployable not only to Android phones and tablets, but also every *existing* desktop computer in existence, it becomes the “obvious” platform for all software. Eventually, all other targets fade in importance, and running native Android becomes the best option for all.

    Windows 8 is unusable. Windows 8.1 is unusable. Android is a much better option.

  2. Richman on March 18, 2013 at 11:37 pm

    If Google launched a desktop os I don’t think it will impact Linux much at all. There will be plenty of believers in free and open software that will stick to Linux for one big reason. Being FREE from the man. Google is a big corporate conglomerate and even if there desktop os is open sourced, they have demonstrated the propensity of wanting to control users through many other means including content, advertising and data control. I personally are against any control mankind devises from Corporate Capitalists, Zionists, Jesuits, NOC, Masons, Builderburgs or any such or similar control.

  3. Oscar on December 21, 2012 at 5:53 am

    For Android Touch/Linux Mouse to win, it should support the enterprise market, this is the reason Windows won the market.
    When users saw that the companies they work for were using Windows, they bought Windows.

    Not the other way around

  4. K Kasyapa Sharma on December 8, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    All said and done, it also depends on the number of applications available on Linux, and where the money would come from for the new applications development, sooner or the later the guys who have had their shop open on Windows selling their software need to migrate on to Andriod / Ubuntu / Mint / any other Linux distro for that matter. As long as that does not happen (though there are alternative apps available in Linux, it has not helped much so far. 

    Being in IT services company, I still see Windows being still used as most reliable OS, I am sure the companies are not putting their hard earned money counting on the risk, as soon as the companies find that Linux Distros are equating the risk factor of Windows, I am sure Windows is going to go down the drain. But again, all said and done where will that resilience come without money (as money drives the market and applications, I am putting the order of Money first and applications next as this is how the world is. Period) 

  5. Brian Masinick on December 5, 2012 at 2:45 am

    Don’t necessarily expect Android, iOS, or anything else to wipe out Windows on the desktop, but do expect both of them to be just enough of competition and irritation to PREVENT Microsoft from putting a serious dent in mobile form factor computing, either in tablets or smart phones.
    This is just marketing warfare.  Google can also justify it because even a few fractions of a percentage point of applications, anything at all, that drives their advertising engine pays more of the bills and adds to their profit margin, just as the Apple stuff all fuels their profit making media resources – the i this and i that – music, games, and movies.  Both companies are extremely profitable in these areas.  Microsoft doesn’t dent those very deeply.
    But conversely, Microsoft owns document stuff, the office suites and virtually everything peripherally around them.  Where Microsoft SHOULD be concerned – and they ARE – lie in any areas which diminish and deflate anything they are doing with Microsoft Office, the Visual product lines, and any of those other entrenched applications.  Google is vigorously attacking those areas.  I can see the Visual Studio line impacted; Google’s Dart project is quite interesting.  Web-based document collaboration is also gradually eating away at the office space, not so much ON the desktop, but by taking those things AWAY from the desktop, and that’s an area that IS of BIG concern to MSFT.

  6. troy on December 2, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    since all the games are based for xbox these day instead of the pc. i guess having an andriod os wouldnt be a bad thing. Ive even given up updating my comp anymore for gaming.

  7. Daniel Ward on November 15, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    People need to put their loyalties aside.  Android is still Linux.  I’ve ran a bash shell on my tablet.  Android really is just a custom linux kernel, with its own distribution and its own window manager.

    I have always thought of X as an archaic windowing system.  To use X with hardware acceleration the way it is today is kind of dumb.  X was designed to work in a client/server environment – there is far too much baggage associated with X on Linux.   If Google released Android as a display system, then users could port their applications over to the new display system, and have the added benefit of being able to make them available to mainstream tablet and phone devices.  Would be nice to finally get a decent port of Tux Racer :biggrin:

  8. sasha on November 4, 2012 at 7:06 am

    I don’t think that Android will kill Windows 8 on the desktop. The only thing that could kill Win8 is its Metro interface.

  9. the.calm.critic on September 12, 2012 at 6:04 am

    This >>> http://www.zdnet.com/the-truth-about-goobuntu-googles-in-house-desktop-ubuntu-linux-7000003462/ should have been prioritized over the POS of an OS that is Chrome OS. Cloud heavy shouldn’t be shoved onto users. Keep that as an option.
    Think about it… Even a full Ubuntu fork w/ separate rolling release model when Android is already incorporated into the Linux kernel? Google’s way bigger than Canonical resource-wise. Clean that mess of Chrome/Android branding 1st but still keep an identity between the x86-64 and ARM paths.

  10. funny on September 7, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    First thing is Microsoft trying to convert a PC to mobile using Windows 8, its looks like a funny joke, on smart phone ground windows 7 based phone are big flop technically (no Memory extenstion,bluetooth limitation…..) where Android is geting mature each and every day as it free and has overwhelming community support.Microsoft now has to compete with bada , blackberry, plasma desktop based mobile, firefox OS

  11. aa on August 21, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Windows 8 sucks with metro interface and Ubuntu sucks with Unity interface.
    I am eagerly waiting for Google to launch Android for desktops. I guess that could be the reason why Google acquired quick office. Google want to enter in to desktop market with proper tools where Microsoft dominates such as Win OS, MS Office, and Browser. Google already had a world popular browser Chrome and Android OS, They need only Office suite and they had that too now.
    Even if Android Desktop sells well, Microsoft will be happy with royalty money from Android and that will be huge when compared to Win OS sales.
    It is on corporate hands to de-throne Microsoft from desktop monopoly status.
    Microsoft should stay in the market to give a healthy competition to Google.

  12. Gavin Flower on August 11, 2012 at 7:06 am

    Note that the Linux kernel used in Android and the mainline kernel 3.4 have largely converged – I assume the convergence will have continued in 3.5 and up. I think the power saving changes made for Android will probably be the last significant difference to be merged – if ever!

    The precise details on the level of convergence will depend on which version of Android we are talking about, but this does not alter the main thrust of the points I am making here.

    To the average user the above is of little direct consequence, but it is important for people trying to maintain a common code base, as far as is practicable, between mainline Linux distributions like Debian (or Fedora) and Android.

  13. apbsa on August 10, 2012 at 10:17 am

    I think Android could be a desktop contender, but it needs programs like openoffice, vlc and the gimp so that users have alternatives to their most used windows programs. That, and good window management so that users can run applications the way that they want to.

  14. dca on August 10, 2012 at 7:53 am

    You’ll be sued immediately by Microsoft because of vFAT…

  15. Rufus Polson on August 10, 2012 at 3:05 am

    This could interact in odd ways with the other potential boost for the Linux desktop/danger for Windows: Valve’s push for Steam on Linux and Linux gaming. I don’t know that Steam or the games ported to Linux would work on Android. That could actually force Android to re-converge somewhat with more typical Linux; “Android + Steam + most mainstream games + the wide variety of software available for normal desktop Linux” could be a compelling desktop offering.

  16. Gavin Flower on August 10, 2012 at 1:24 am

    As far as I can tell, all the signs point to Microsoft’s Windows 8 being a bigger disaster than Microsoft’s Vista!

    This unfortunately will mostly benefit Apple (for desktops and laptops), but provides a huge opportunity for companies to release products based on Linux for both the mobile and desktop markets! So I think that Linux will be given a huge boost by Microsoft’s decisions.

    Note that Android uses the Linux kernel.

    I think that Android 5 is likely to be far more popular than Microsoft’s Windows 8, in both the mobile and desktop markets – though my favourite Linux Distribution is currently Fedora with the xfce desktop environment (GNOME 3 is a massive failure on the desktop).

    In the mobile phone market, Android will continue to dominate with Apple remaining in 2nd place, at best Microsoft will climb to a distant 3rd in this market (only because RIM is imploding).

    I think that by Christmas 2014, Android will dominate tablets, and be far more significant on laptops and desktops, while continuing to dominate mobile phones. At that time, in all major markets, I expect Microsoft to be in either 2nd or 3rd place.

    Note that Linux has dominated super computers for several years, and is now dominating servers, but I don’t see Android being significant here any time soon.

    Personally, I would prefer either Debian or Fedora to dominate desktops and laptops, rather than Android – but I am well aware that what I would like, and what is likely to happen, often differ!

  17. John on August 9, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    Android on the Desktop would met with open arms by most of the end-users I know. It’s a simpler OS to operate with enough power under the hood to satisfy a large and growing segment of the population.
    I wouldn’t be interested in it personally because it lacks the top-level apps and system control you get with a conventional OS like Linux or Windows. This could change over time, however. If it does… it’s going to be am interesting future – one that would also have Apple following suit with iOS based solutions. This is the Facebook crowd we’re talking about, afterall.

  18. gouchout on August 9, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    I think Android will be the rival on ARM-based machines, like the ones MS Surface is meant to run on. If Google don’t do what MS are doing on ARM, i.e. lock the hardware down, they’ll score a big geek PR win as well. On x86 its not an issue – things may well just continue on the same path, but ARM desktops/laptops are a whole new ball game. No wonder MS are so keen to lock that hardware down.
    Myself, I’m 100% Debian :-))

  19. sweatshopking on August 9, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Well… you argue that OEM’s should change because MS is competing with them… you DO know that google own’s motorola and competes with the oems? point is moot, and really, makes you look silly. i guess if you have an agenda, it works ok, but come on man. i’m all for competition, but that’s just being silly. 

  20. Alan on August 9, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Android has momentum in mobile, but it lacks far too much to be much of a desktop option.  If nothing else, they’re going to have to give developers some better options (Java? No thanks.  And SLA is poorly integrated).
    There’s a lot about the desktop that people take for granted (like peripheral support, for example), things that traditional GNU/Linux distros have been fighting for years. 
    I wish Google would just put some of its R&D muscle behind a mainstream distro like Debian, or even its own spinoff, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel with something like Chrome.  We are *so close* with GNU/Linux these days, especially compared to ChromeOS or Android; all it would take is someone like Google giving it some mainstream legitimacy for consumers.

  21. syncdram on August 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Ya know i read this article and you could have replaced windows 8 with ubuntu. They have done the same thing, Only difference is in the linux world we have the choice to change distributions. With windows 8 world there there world as they have always known it is coming to a complete halt. Linux and Mac will be waiting to catch them at the bottom of the cliff.

  22. IGnatius T Foobar on August 8, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    I’m ok with pretty much anything destroying Windows on the desktop.  Microsoft has held its monopoly for far too long, and a change is long overdue.

    If Android begins to take the mainstream desktop by storm, I think there will be a lot of symbiosis between Android and “regular” Linux.  Nothing to worry about there. 

    Remember: what’s bad for Microsoft is good for everyone else.  Always.

  23. sola on August 8, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Ubuntu for Android (and alike) is the way
    The only way for Android to get a proper/fully working desktop solution is to embrace desktop technologies including Xorg and include a fully functional, existing desktop environment in Android.
    They should blend the desktop and the Android UI just the way Canonical has already done with Ubuntu for Android.
    It will be a fail if Google chooses to develop a new desktop which only runs Android applications. In most cases, Android apps are very limited when you compare them to their desktop-Linux counterparts.
    However, if they create a desktop which allows full-blown Linux desktop applications, it will be a clear WIN and Android immediately gains a huge number of sophisticated desktop apps.

  24. Atarivandio on August 8, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    Yes! You are completely right. They are both very aware of this. It is legal forward and backward integration in all devices and only Linux can sustain it. The first kernel push was made just before the first ‘Metro’ announcement, so I know it was mainly directed at Microsoft. Apple is frightened by the prospect as they both are, they make more money with platform segregation. If Google did this they would be immune to patent wars, only on the ground that the OS can be on a separate block of memory containing the OS in the package. All that matters is the virtual machine. Please O’ Lord it isn’t the cure all, but it @amn sure is a magic bullet. The only evidence you need is dates and times corresponding to Kernel pushes. These people are taking this more seriously than anything else. Gates hung his head and left in defeat over Android when he realized the magnitude of the yet to be released cloud developments. If the manufacturers are going to get sued with Android on the machine… The are now making multiple ‘styles’ of devices to test what gets sued or not for future integration. Chrome’s cloud will be used to hold the central Android Os. This is to restrain virus and malware proliferation too. This mutation is more powerful than the previous ones, it’s like the billions of years to get from single cell to fish. Now it just takes years to go from fish to land. It seems to be quickening and I fell so proud.

  25. Gavin Flower on August 31, 2012 at 8:39 am


    Like me, he may not have access to any computers burdened by a Microsoft operating system!

    Anyhow, security professionals advise people not to use IE for security reasons, and both Chrome & Firefox are available for Microsoft boxen.

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