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The dual-boot Windows and Android notebook: Is it a viable proposition?

I have been hearing a lot of chatter recently from PC vendors interested in creating at least one laptop in their line that dual boots Windows and Android. Asus recently introduced such a dual-boot machine that further blurs the line between the laptop and tablet. The Transformer Book Trio includes a hot key that lets users easily toggle between both operating systems.

Shortly after the Asus announcement, Samsung introduced the Ativ Q (pictured above). It dual boots Windows and Android, and as we reported last month, it “will allow users to tap into Windows 8 or Android 4.2.2, switching seamlessly between the two and even pin Android apps to the Windows 8 start screen.”

Samsung said: "Users will not only get access to Android apps via Google Play but will also be able to transfer files to share folders and files from Windows 8 to Android, truly marrying the mobile and PC experiences."

But are these machines necessary when you have a solution like BlueStacks that permits Android on Windows without any dual booting? After you download the BlueStacks player, you can gain access to hundreds of thousands of Android apps that you can use on Windows PCs. In most cases you can't even tell that they are Android apps since they work so seamlessly within Windows.

This idea is especially intriguing because Windows 8 users are quite frustrated with the lack of apps available, and would like to have the same apps on their Windows PC. To date, Microsoft has done a relatively good job of convincing and even paying developers to get the major apps ported to Windows 8, but it's still missing many of them.

This is more than challenging for Microsoft. When choosing which platforms to develop for, developers tend to go where the money is. When I talk to VCs who are backing mobile app companies big and small, they tell me that they back projects in iOS first, then Android if it makes sense. They do not have Windows app development on their radar at all. When I talk directly to developers of all types, I get the same story.

This problem is even more pronounced when you look at long tail apps, or apps that are not mainstream but are highly useful. For example, it might be a special app that a football team uses to handle its schedule, events, and carpooling. Or one used by a church to manage its communications and announcements as well as to schedule parishioner's involvement in coordinating events. While those apps may be on iOS and Android, the likelihood of them being available on Windows is pretty low.

Whether dual booting Android and Windows on a PC or using the BlueStacks solution, the outcome could be quite interesting for all consumers. Both Android and iOS stores boast more than 800,000 apps today. By comparison, the Windows app store has well under 100,000. Providing a way to put Android apps on Windows could solve the need for these long tail apps on Windows.

However, the history of the dual-boot operating system is not pretty. Part of the reason is that when in dual-boot mode and using apps from each OS in multi-user mode, CPU usage and overall performance are always affected. The only successful story so far has been Parallels' attempt to provide a Windows OS on top of the Mac OS. Even here its audience is limited to those who really need to run Windows apps on the Mac, most of whom are business customers.

The other issue is file sharing between apps. Although Samsung says it has a way to do this on its Ativ Q, I doubt it works with all apps. If this is not done seamlessly, users will be less inclined to pay extra for a dual-boot Android/Windows PC or laptop. On the other hand, the temptation of having access to most Android apps on Windows will definitely interest some users who simply want their favourite Android apps available on Windows and could use cloud-based storage mediums for file sharing.

Although nobody has a clue as to how big this market for dual-boot Android and Windows devices will be, these first-generation systems really are early test market products. Vendors are trying to differentiate their PCs and laptops in a sea of sameness, so chalk this one up to a gimmicky quest to be different. I have serious misgivings on the ultimate success of dedicated devices that dual boot Android and Windows, especially if they add cost to the system. And remember that BlueStacks already delivers a lot of Android apps on Windows for free.