Wine for Android? Sorry, you're going to have to wait

Credit: flickr photo by quinn.anya

Earlier this week, the world saw a demonstration of Wine -- the program that lets Windows apps run natively on other platforms -- running on Android. It raised hopes that users of Google's mobile OS soon will be able to view Office and other Windows programs as they were intended.

But it will be a while before Wine for Android will be ready for users. 

Wine's longtime project leader, Alexandre Julliard, CTO of CodeWeavers, which sells a supported version of the open-source software called CrossOver, demonstrated the project last week at the FOSDEM (Free and Open source Software Developers' European Meeting) show in Brussels. But Julliard tells CITEworld that Wine for Android is "not really targeted at users at this point."

"The issue is that running x86 Windows binaries would require an x86 Android device,"  Julliard says. "ARM devices will only be able to run Windows ARM binaries, which don't really exist yet."

Intel has been late to the mobile market, with its x86 architecture powering only a few devices. Most Android devices rely on ARM’s architecture, so the hardware isn’t there yet.

Meanwhile, in October Microsoft released a version of Windows for ARM processors -- Windows RT -- and has ported some key Office apps over to the new platform. But there are not nearly as many apps available for it as for Windows 8, which runs on x86 processors like previous Windows PCs.

“As such,” Julliard says, “the goal is more to target software vendors who want to port their applications to Android, since they would be able to rebuild it for ARM, and also adapt the user interface for touch devices. This may of course change if x86 Android devices should become more widespread. In any case it will be many months before we have something ready.”

Julliard explains that running Windows programs on Wine will deliver a superior performance than running them in a virtualized environment on Android.

“I don't think running the full Windows OS virtualized on a relatively low-powered Android device is realistic,” he says. “The overhead of Wine would be much smaller, particularly when porting an application, since it would possible to streamline Wine by removing things that are not required for that specific application.”

For those enterprise Android users looking forward to eventually viewing Excel spreadsheets on their tablets or smartphones, Julliard offers little encouragement.

“I don't think running existing Windows office applications on a mobile device would give good results, since the form factor and user interface are too different,” he says. “I see more potential in making it easier for vendors to port their application without requiring a complete rewrite, so that you can then use the same applications across a range of devices, with a user interface adapted to each device.”

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