Microsoft: Here comes the Windows Subsystem for Android

Microsoft execs shed a few more details on how they plan to enable Android apps to run on Windows 11, and a new Windows Subsystem for Android is at the heart of its strategy.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft's "one more thing" piece of its Windows 11 announcement today, June 24, was the relatively imminent delivery of the rumored ability to run Android apps on Windows. Exactly how Microsoft plans to do this is still a bit murky. But officials did share a few tidbits during a virtual briefing for developers at the end of the day.

Microsoft is going to provide a Windows Subsystem for Android in Windows 11, said Kevin Gallo, Corporate Vice President of the Windows Developer Platform. This will act similarly to the existing Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) that is part of Windows today. Like WSL, the coming Android Subsystem for Linux will support GUI apps.

The coming Android subsystem will provide a proxy native app between the Android app model and the Windows app model. There will be a virtual machine that provides compatibility for the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which provides custom variants of Android that don't require Google Play Services support. And that's why the Amazon Store was mentioned during Microsoft's Windows 11 launch event today -- Amazon's FireOS is based on AOSP.

Update: Amazon has a press release on this. It says Amazon and Microsoft announced plans to bring the Amazon Appstore to Windows 11. As Microsoft execs said today, not every Android app in the Amazon Appstore will run on Windows 11. But "the initial Amazon Appstore selection" will be available to Windows customers later this year.

During the Windows 11 kick-off keynote, Microsoft Chief Product Officer Panos Panay mentioned not just Amazon but also Intel in describing how Android apps will work on Windows 11. Intel and Microsoft have been collaborating on the Intel Bridge Technology, which is a runtime post-compiler for running apps on x86 devices.

Gallo clarified that the Intel Bridge won't be needed on AMD or Arm devices to get Android apps to run on Windows 11 on devices with those processors. Android apps will run on whichever Windows 11 device a user has, regardless of processor type. As Android apps are generally compiled for Arm, no bridge technology may be needed. And Android allows developers to package their binaries with their apps.

I'm not sure exactly when Android apps will start showing up in the revamped Microsoft app Store. Microsoft plans to make the new Store available for Windows 10 and 11 this fall, and Windows 11 is slated to roll out starting this holiday season and into early 2022 for new and existing Windows 10 users who have devices that meet the new hardware qualifications.

It's worth noting this isn't the first time that Microsoft has tried to get Android apps on Windows. The company did manage to get Android apps working on Windows 10 a number of years ago via its "Astoria" bridge project. The goal of these bridges (there were ones for iOS, Web, and Win32, too) was to try to get developers on these other platforms to adapt their apps to work on Windows 10.

The Astoria Android project worked too well, so the story goes, in that it enabled Android apps to work on Windows 10 without any adaptations or developer intervention/approval. At the time, this thwarted Microsoft's goal of trying to get more Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps in its Store, and so Astoria was canceled in 2015 and the team disbanded.

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