Are dual-OS Windroid devices coming to an enterprise near you?

As the PC and mobile worlds meld, Intel plans to support devices that run both Windows and Android at once, which could have a complex effect on IT.

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Intel is hedging its bets on  support for dual operating systems on a single device, offering IT a way to give end users Google's Android OS without ditching Windows.

Intel Corp. plans to support two-in-one computers that run both the Windows and Android operating systems on a single platform. Similar devices from Asus and other manufacturers are expected to ship this year, and will offer users the ability to switch back and forth between both environments at the touch of a button. The dual mode melds tablets and PCs and lets end users choose how they want to interact with their tablets, depending on which application they're using.

"This is definitely interesting, but I think it really only makes sense for two-in-one type PCs," said Bob O'Donnell, founder of Technalysis Research LLC, a research consulting organization based in Foster City, Calif.

The idea is akin to dual-persona technology where users can separate work applications and data from their personal lives on one device. In that scenario, available via Blackberry Balance and other dual-persona tools, there is only one operating system on the device.

Running two separate OSes on one device may have value to some users. Android would make sense when using a two-in-one device as a tablet, and Windows is good for the PC keyboard mode, O'Donnell said. The Android interface provides a simpler look and feel for those who want to use a touch-based device instead of the Windows 8.1 user interface.

In addition, devices could also support the dual operating system combination of Windows 7 and Android, O'Donnell said. This would allow companies that still run Windows 7 and the traditional desktop interface to continue doing so without having to upgrade to Windows 8.

Dual-OS platforms pose IT support issues

Systems that support both Windows and Android could create management and application problems, plus they could complicate the environment, said Wes Miller, research analyst for Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based Microsoft consultancy.

Additionally, Android security is a paramount concern, despite Google's attempts last year to secure Android and meet enterprise requirements.

But Intel's new CEO Brian Krzanich said the company is going to deliver device protection technology in  a hardened method that provides Android mobile devices with enterprise-grade security. Intel also plans to offer pieces of the McAfee mobile security products for free to help safeguard mobile devices and waylay enterprise IT's concerns.

However, these dual OS devices allow Android to piggyback on enterprise-grade Window PCs, opening the door for Android into businesses, said Paul DeGroot, principal consultant for Pica Communications LLC of Camano Island, Wash.

Will dual-OS devices catch on?

It is still too early to determine the success of the dual OS devices slated for later this year, but there is a need to run certain applications in the Windows and Android ecosystems.

"A lot comes down to the belief that Android has apps that Windows doesn't," Miller said. Using a dual-OS approach gets you those apps, but it could be very confusing for non-technical users, he added.

Indeed, software development and applications could play a key role as to whether the dual-OS devices succeed.

"It's possible [that] you can see more business development on Android than we have seen in the past," DeGroot added.

Software developers invest more time and money in Android applications compared with native Windows 8 apps.

In addition, DeGroot noted that one can write custom Android apps and load them directly onto an end user's device or from a company's internal website.

"You can't do that for Windows 8 apps. You have to run them through the Microsoft store or pay extra on Windows 8 machines by [purchasing] a side-loading key," he noted.

Microsoft could have a negative impact on the success of dual-OS systems, however. Sources said although these dual-OS devices will not violate Windows licensing agreements, there could be other issues for partners.  For instance, it is unclear whether Microsoft will provide market development funds to vendors who sell the dual-operating system models.

"Microsoft pays money to vendors for part of their marketing," said a source. "In reality, [vendors have] such thin margins that the extra money from Microsoft is important. Microsoft wouldn't cut off a vendor entirely, but they're not going to support the [dual OS] products. It will have some financial impact."

Microsoft could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Intel's dual-operating system news was overshadowed by rival AMD's collaboration with BlueStacks Inc. to run Android on Windows PCs.

Market research firms are optimistic over Android's continued market growth

Gartner Inc. this week forecasted that by the end of this year, 2.5 billion mobile devices, including PCs, tablets, mobile phones and ultra mobile units, will ship worldwide, with 1.1 billion of the total units expected to be Android devices.

However, Gartner is not expecting the dual-operating system devices to make a big impact on the market just yet. End users choose devices based on other factors, such as screen size, and then choose the OS that meets their primary needs, said Ranjit Atwal, research director for Gartner.    

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