OEMs, Intel making big mistake with two-headed, dual-OS devices

'I don't see any benefit to consumers,' says analyst of systems that run Android and Windows

OEMs and Intel risk damaging both the Android and Windows ecosystems if they go through with plans to sell devices able to run software from both worlds, an analyst argued today.

At a news conference slated for Monday, Intel and several computer makers -- dubbed OEMs for "original equipment manufacturers" -- are expected to unveil a new initiative that promotes dual OS devices, including tablets and personal computers, that have both Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows 8.1 pre-installed.

Two weeks ago, Computerworld cited analysts who said that the initiative would be rolled out at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week. One of those analysts, Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy, said, "This should scare the heck out of Microsoft," as he bet that the move would "be a very hot topic" at the massive Las Vegas trade show.

Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm that focuses exclusively on the Redmond, Wash. technology giant, didn't disagree that the effort would be newsworthy. But he did call it a major mistake for all concerned.

"This will make both Android and Windows seem incomplete," said Miller in a Monday interview. "It will muddle the message for users."

In a post to his personal blog on Sunday, Miller was more expansive.

"The OEMs and Intel have to be going into this strategy without any concern for consumers," Miller wrote. "It's just about moving devices, and trying to ensure an ecosystem is there when they can't, or don't want to, bet on one platform exclusively. The end result is a device that instead of doing task A well, or task B well, does a really middling job with both, and results in a device that the user regrets buying, or worse, regrets being given."

Miller saw Android-Windows devices, whether tablets or more traditional personal computers, as inherently flawed, as he said all such two-OSes-in-one-machine attempts have been in the past, citing problems ranging from disparate user interfaces (UIs) to awkward file sharing.

"Android has struggled to have a cohesive design paradigm, and now [OEMs] are suggesting to meld that with a version of Windows that people love to take strikes against because of its two modes?" Miller asked.

The two modes Miller mentioned are those within Windows 8 and its free upgrade, Windows 8.1: The OS relies on both a traditional, "classic" desktop UI operated by keyboard and mouse, and the radical "Modern," nee "Metro," UI that features tiles and focuses on touch input.

Much of the criticism aimed at Windows 8, as Miller noted, has centered on the two interfaces or modes, and the perception that Windows 8 is a Frankenstein built from two vastly different UIs bolted together.

"I don't see a benefit to consumers," Miller said of the Android-and-Windows concept. "There may be a theoretical benefit, but it appears that these devices will have Android on machines that were really bought to run Windows."

Not Android. And certainly not both.

"There's really no clear sign that the consumer benefits from this approach, and in fact they really lose, as they've now got a Windows device with precious storage space consumed by an Android install of dubious value," Miller wrote on his blog. "If the consumer really wanted an Android device, they're in the opposite conundrum."

In the interview today, Miller went further, predicting that the dual-OS hardware would deliver "a really bad customer experience" and calling them "two-headed devices."

From all reports, neither Microsoft or Google is happy about the project. That makes sense, said Miller, since a split-personality device gives customers the impression that neither company has a satisfactory OS, and that to make one, OEMs have to offer both.

The reality is more mundane, Miller said, echoing other analysts who have commented on the concept. "This is hedging on the part of OEMs," Miller said. "They're trying to make sure they have money on red and black."

The dual-OS brainstorm was triggered by the realization that, for OEMs and Intel, Microsoft was less the pure partner it once was, and now both a competitor and collaborator.

"Microsoft is now a partner and a competitor with me," said Miller, taking the role of an OEM. "Why shouldn't I be a partner and a competitor with them?"

Friction between Microsoft and OEMs has increased since mid-2012, when the former announced it would compete with the latter in the device business, and introduced its own Surface tablet line to make the point. The struggles of Windows 8, and its inability to turn around the slump in personal computer shipments -- due more to encroaching tablets than anything -- have not helped the relationships.

While somewhat similar initiatives have been put into play before, this is by far the most significant, Miller agreed. "We've never seen this broad of a buzz before," said Miller of the talk of OEMs straying from Windows.

Intel's press conference will kick off at 1 p.m. PT, and will be webcast from the chip maker's website, a spokeswoman confirmed Sunday.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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