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CES 2014: Are Intel's “Windroid” plans making Microsoft unhappy?

Intel's new "Dual OS" processors are capable of running Windows and Android natively on a single chip, powering a tablet or 2-in-1 device, but word has it that Microsoft is none too pleased about this.

Though it didn't get a lot of attention, the chip giant pitched the Dual OS capabilities of its latest Core and Atom processors during Monday's keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas – confirming an earlier report by The Verge about Intel's CES plans. Intel demoed the technology on a tablet running Windows and Android, flipping quickly between the two operating systems.

The first device taking advantage of Dual OS appears to be the Asus Transformer Book Duet (pictured above), which runs Windows 8.1 and Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. The Transformer Book Duet is a 13.3in full HD (1,920 x 1,080) detachable slate tablet with an included keyboard dock. The new Asus device packs an Ultrabook-class Intel Core processor, with options up to Core i7, and can be used as either a traditional clamshell laptop or slate tablet.

Running more than one OS on a PC or mobile device isn't a new concept. Samsung's Ativ Q 2-in-1 device did roughly the same thing, and Advanced Micro Devices this week announced its own plans to run Android apps on Windows devices using ARM chips and the BlueStacks virtualisation engine. Boot Camp, an Apple-produced virtualisation tool for running Windows on Macs, came out in 2007.

Intel, though, is billing its Dual OS capabilities as a breakthrough, and the key here is that Windows and Android are running natively via the technology rather than by means of virtualisation. Observers of Monday's keynote also noted that swapping between Windows and Android on Intel's demo device appeared faster and smoother than on other platforms offering the same thing.

"From an Intel perspective, we see this as an exciting area for innovation ... we are the first microprocessor company to support devices that combine the best of Windows and Android operating systems in a single device," an Intel spokesperson said.

Intel announced that it would support Android back in 2010. The company's latest Core and Atom designs can run Windows and Android. More x86-based chips coming from Intel this year will support a 64-bit version of Google's mobile operating system, according to the company.

Redmond not happy

According to The Verge, Intel originally planned to promote the Dual OS concept pretty heavily at CES, before the chip maker and its partners started getting some pretty heavy pushback from Redmond about putting too much muscle behind the technology.

It seems Microsoft may not be too keen on having Android apps running on Windows devices – particularly given that the software giant has been pulling out all the stops in an attempt to gain a foothold against Google and Apple in the mobile space.

In fact, Microsoft may have been "trying to convince PC manufacturers to cancel their plans mere days before the Las Vegas show," industry analyst Patrick Moorhead told The Verge last week.

But why would Redmond care about this? After all, Dual OS may run Android alongside Windows, but Microsoft would still be getting full licensing fees regardless.

Moorhead, principal analyst for Moor Insights & Strategy, thinks Microsoft's concerns pertain to the big picture of fostering an ecosystem of mobile app developers to better compete with other operating systems. Having Windows devices out there running Android could hamper this effort, the analyst said.

"PCs are in double-digit declines and meanwhile, Windows 8 has a deficit in apps relative to Android. So if developers know you can do an Android app on Windows, it disincentivises them from building that app for Windows," Moorhead said.

"Google is probably more neutral on this, leaning towards negative. Their issue would be about the Android experience and Google Play being diluted on Dual OS."

Neither Microsoft nor Google immediately responded to a request for comment.

Moorhead said the viability of Dual OS systems would depend on "getting the experience right" for consumers. The analyst figured that power users would probably value the ability to actively switch between Windows and Android. However, the majority of mobile device users might prefer nothing more than a simple "Android tile" in a Windows interface for running Android apps without any fuss, he suggested.