For more than two decades, ever since DOS and Windows 3.1x, dual-booting has been restricted to hardcore enthusiasts who found being able to boot from one or more operating systems convenient and useful.
If the presentation by Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore last week in Barcelona is an indication of how the mobile market will evolve, we’re about to see a comeback of dual booting with Android and Windows Phone sitting on the same phone.
The push is likely to come from Microsoft for whom this might be one of the biggest punts of its long history, similar to putting Internet Explorer into Windows 95.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend
The gist of the later part of Belfiore’s presentation is that Microsoft is working closely with hardware partners to make sure that there is little or no change needed to get a smartphone (or indeed any ARM-based devices) to run Windows Phone or Android.
X86 devices like PCs, laptops and servers run Windows or Linux (or indeed MacOS X) indiscriminately and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be the case for smartphones in general.
This is a logical step that is likely to be more helpful to Microsoft than Android – and this tacit agreement will end up being most detrimental to Apple.
How bold is too bold?
It seems likely that Microsoft may encourage partners to offer dual-boot as standard on all Android smartphones by offering Windows Phone for free or for a huge discount.
The cynical among us might suggest that as well as offering Windows Phone for free (or at a low cost), Microsoft will slash the fees associated with cross licensing agreements signed with scores of manufacturers of Android devices to persuade them to put Windows Phone prominently on the Android phone (perhaps on the boot screen).
Either solution will cost money but would enable Microsoft to get Windows into the hands of potentially tens of millions of Android users.
It will hope that they will try Windows Phone and be so enamoured of it that they eventually switch to a solely Windows Phone device or continue to use the two platforms altogether.
This would help Microsoft expand the number of smartphones running Windows Phone exponentially and we might even see Microsoft-backed versions of Android without Google’s services (similar to what Nokia is doing), something which would be something of an ironic move.
As always though, the more competition in a market, the more likely innovation will thrive.
The business allure of dual-booting
So what’s the point of dual-booting for consumers? Most end-users and consumers are unlikely to gain much from the exercise, depending on how dual-booting devices are pitched to the mainstream.
But there is a category of users for whom this will be a godsend and that is the business/enterprise audience.
Having Windows 8 Embedded or Windows Phone 8 plus Android on a sleek smartphone that can be used both for work and leisure will be an attractive proposal to some.
Microsoft’s mobile platform offers easy access to Office 365, Active Directory and the entire Windows ecosystem (including Xbox) and is an incredibly attractive alternative to BlackBerry.
That’s the theory many think Redmond will follow because the other option is to see Windows Phone stuck as the third choice after Android and iOS, and seeing numbers of shipped (but not sold) units increase over time.
Piggy-backing on Google’s Android is definitely not an ego-boosting move for Microsoft but it is by far the most pragmatic.
It is also one that can yield great results reasonably quickly, which is what Satya Nadella needs at the moment to stamp his authority on the company.
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