Build 2015 Microsoft will get Android code working with Windows 10, confirming the rumors are true, sort of.
But what the software giant actually has planned is more nuanced than just borrowing apps from the Google Play store, and it involves courting iOS developers, too.
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At the Build developer conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, Microsoft executive VP of operating systems Terry Myerson outlined an ambitious plan to fill out the anemic Windows Store with new apps, and it involves reusing code from as many sources as possible.
Note we said "reusing," not "running." This isn't a strict Android-compatibility play like BlackBerry tried with its latest OS. Microsoft will get developers most of the way by allowing them to repurpose the Java and C++ code from their Android apps, but also wants them to tailor the apps to take advantage of what Windows has to offer.
"To make this possible, Windows phones will include an Android subsystem," Myserson told the crowd at Build, "where an app can be written that takes advantage of the Android code but also the extensions that are right in the Windows platform to really delight Windows users."
We're told this Android subsystem is known internally by the codename "Project Astoria." It's not clear how many of the Android APIs it will support, but it's safe to say that some APKs may run unmodified while others won't. On the flipside, Astoria also provides Java developers with hooks to Windows APIs that aren't present on Google's platform.
To illustrate, Myerson demoed a Windows 10 phone app that was based on Android code but took full advantage of Windows 10's mouse and touch capabilities and was integrated with the Windows 10 navigation model. Even Windows 10's built-in keyboard worked.
Expect more details to emerge over the next couple of days of Build. But the important thing to recognize is that Microsoft doesn't just want to pad its store with a bunch of Android apps. What it really wants is Android developers producing apps that run on the Windows platform and bringing them to market at the same time as their Android counterparts.
Objective-C comes to Windows
The same goes for iOS developers. Myerson said a new tool being announced on Wednesday – we're told it's called "Project Islandwood" – will make it possible to convert Xcode project files into Visual Studio solutions.
There's no code translation involved. All of the original Objective-C files remain intact. Myerson said a future version of Visual Studio will include full support for Apple's pet language, including Microsoft's much-vaunted IntelliSense tech.
"You get great syntax highlighting support that you expect from Visual Studio, including highlighting all of the weirdness of Objective-C," Myerson sniped, to a big round of applause.
Apple, meet Microsoft's orange
It won't be possible to run iOS binaries on Windows devices, but the idea is that they will recompile for Windows with relatively little difficulty. The idea is that Microsoft's conversion tool handles the heavy lifting of converting iOS API calls to the corresponding Windows 10 APIs. During his keynote, Myserson showed off an app that he said used Apple's UIKit framework and Core Animation infrastructure, but which ran smoothly on Windows 10, including support for both mouse and touch.
Myerson said Microsoft used iOS games developer King as its guinea pig for Islandwood, and that the firm used the tech to port its wildly popular Candy Crush Saga title. The Windows 10 version of Candy Crush Saga, he said, has garnered 40,000 reviews in the Windows Store and currently has a 4.5-star rating.
This wasn't the only olive branch Microsoft offered to Apple's install base, either. Also on Wednesday, the software giant announced Visual Studio Code, a lightweight product that offers some of the code-editing capabilities of Visual Studio – including IntelliSense – and runs on Windows, Linux, and OS X.
Come one, come all
But it's not just mobile developers that Redmond wants to woo over to Windows 10. Myerson said that web and old-style Windows developers will be able to get in on the action, too.
For web developers, Microsoft plans to make it possible to wrap sites inside apps that can be listed in the Windows Store and that run in application frames on the Windows desktop. In turn, Microsoft plans to provide APIs that allow web apps to hook into Windows 10 features, such as notifications, Live Tiles, in-app purchases, and Cortana.
Redmond is also planning to open the Windows Store to Win32 and .Net apps. Because downloading native Windows applications from an app store is an inherently risky proposition, however – given all their capabilities and their ability to do mischief – Microsoft has added an extra layer of security.
"We've learned from AppV, our enterprise application virtualization technology, and we've adopted it for the Windows Store," Myerson said. "So now, Win32 and .Net applications come down from the Windows Store and they run in an isolated way from the rest of the system, so we can deliver on that promise to end users to deliver a great end-user experience."
Central to all of this is getting as many applications as possible into the Windows Store. Microsoft has said the past that it plans to unify its app stores for PCs and phones with Windows 10. It's now expanding that strategy to include as many kinds of software in as many forms as possible for every type of Windows device – including PCs, tablets, phones, Xbox, and more.
The idea, Myerson said, was to give developers access to the full range of kit running Windows 10, which he said was a potential install base of a billion devices.
"With Apple, you choose to invest in iOS or Mac OS. With Google, you choose to invest in Android or Chrome OS," Myerson said. "Windows is the only ecosystem that lets you bring your apps to all of these devices efficiently."
Expect more details on all of these announcement as the Build conference continues. The event is being held at San Francisco's Moscone Center through this Friday. ®