Preston Gralla

Big PC makers aim Android at the heart of Microsoft

December 23, 2013 10:54 AM EST

Android has long dominated Windows on mobile devices, but now PC makers are doing the previously unthinkable: Aiming it straight at traditional PCs, the heart of Microsoft's core business. Will Microsoft be able to survive this latest assault on Windows?

Computerworld's Gregg Keizer reports that at the upcoming Computer Electronics Show (CES) multiple PC makers will introduce so-called "PC Plus" lines of computers, which will run both Windows 8.1 as well as Android apps. They'll likely be clamshell-style laptops, not desktops, and include touch screens.

It's won't be just a small-scale revolution. Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies said in a Time magazine article that the push is being backed by Microsoft's long-time partner Intel. Bajarin said that the PC Plus plan is a way for PC makers to bring more touch-based apps to their PCs, because the number of Windows apps lags so far behind Android ones.

That app gap isn't shrinking and might widen. A recent survey by Appcelerator and IDC found that only about 33% of mobile developers are interested in developing for Windows, compared to to nearly 80% for Android phones and 66% for Android tablets.

The new PCs may do more than just run Android apps inside of Windows. They may well be dual-boot machines, where users have the option of booting directly to Android instead of Windows.

It's likely that the new machines will be announced with a great deal of fanfare, and be backed by significant marketing campaigns. Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, told Computerworld:

"This is going to make buzz at CES OEMs will be trumpeting this ... it's going to be a very hot topic [at CES]."

The danger for Microsoft is that once people get used to Android on traditional computers, they'll be less scared to make the jump completely from Windows to Android, eating into Windows market share. In addition, it could make developers less interested in developing for Windows, because they can get their Android apps in front of people on Windows machines. Moorehead explained to Computerworld:

"This should scare the heck out of Microsoft. They should be very, very afraid because if goes widespread, it demotivates developers to create native Windows apps."

Big PC makers including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Acer and Lenovo have already been introducing alternatives to Windows with small, inexpensive Chromebooks. Microsoft is worried enough about them that it's launched an anti-Chrome marketing campaign in which the heroes of the reality show "Pawn Stars" trash the devices, and say that a Chromebook is "not a real laptop." And LG Electronics has announced a Chrome-based desktop PC called Chromebase with a a 21.5-inch widescreen monitor.

Does all this portend the end of Windows? No. For now, Chrome isn't making a serious dent in the PC market, and the PC Plus computers aren't likely to make a serious dent immediately as well.

In the long run, though, PC Plus and Chrome are certainly dangerous to Microsoft. People are already comfortable using non-Windows operating systems on their mobile devices. With real alternative on traditional PCs, they may break their Windows habits there as well.