Our smartphones are getting so powerful that they’re being used for sometimes crazy things, like bitcoin mining or running as a desktop. How about running a desktop? Been there, done that, at least as far as Linux is concerned. But running Windows programs on Android, without tricks like remote desktops or virtual machines, is a different thing entirely. It could, however, be close to becoming reality thanks to the latest WINE 3.0 release, which paves the way for running Windows win32 programs on Android almost natively.
Linux users will probably be familiar with WINE, an “backronym” that means “WINE Is Not an Emulator”. Unlike said emulators, virtual machines like VirtualBox, remote desktops, and dockers, WINE doesn’t run a full Windows operating system on top of Linux or macOS. Instead, it provides a sort of translation (a.k.a. compatibility) layer between Windows programs and the underlying operating system, translating Windows system functions to their native equivalents.
Of course, that’s a 40,000-foot simplified overview of what WINE does and, as they say, the devil is in the details. That’s why it has taken so long for WINE to officially support Android, which is Linux-based underneath. WINE version 3.0, released just last week, finally adds support for Android graphics drivers, which gets the ball rolling on running Windows programs on Android, with some caveats, of course.
While WINE can now be packaged and installed as a regular Android APK, there isn’t one readily available yet and most developers, at this point, are most likely to build it on their own. Windows and Android window management is also very different so, at the moment, WINE will show a full Windows desktop with applications running inside it rather than one full window per Windows application.
And finally the biggest caveat of all is that it’s still in the very early stages of development so there are many that still might not work. In particular, win32 programs will only run on Intel-based Android devices while the majority of ARM-based phone and tablets will have to settle for the measly selection of WinRT programs for now.