Sideloading Android apps on Windows 11 could open a can of worms

Ewdison Then - Jun 27, 2021, 8:36pm CDT
Sideloading Android apps on Windows 11 could open a can of worms

One of the biggest news about Windows 11 that caught the masses’ attention is its promised ability to run Android apps. Of course, the devil is in the details, as they say, and those details are slowly trickling in to paint a more complete and more complicated story. On the one hand, it seems that Microsoft won’t be closing off its reported “Windows Subsystem for Android”. On the other hand, the ability to sideload Android apps could also put Windows itself at risk in the long run, both technically and legally.

Rather than partner with Google, which would have been what most expected it to do, Microsoft chose to team up with Amazon to bring the latter’s Android app ecosystem to Windows. Although that ecoystem is far from being negligible, the Amazon Appstore may not have all the apps and games that Android users might want on their Windows 11 PCs. Most notably, it doesn’t have access to Google Play Store and services and the apps that may rely on the latter’s features.

That naturally brought up questions of whether it would be possible to sideload Android packages, more popularly known as APKs to install any app that’s missing from Amazon’s repository. Sideloading, which is now a rather hot topic for Apple and is iOS App Store, would allow users to download APKs from just about anywhere and install them on an Android system. Pretty much like how Windows users download installers in .exe and .msi formats, which makes this process all too familiar to them.

The good news, at least according to Microsoft’s Miguel de Icaza, is that it would definitely be possible to do so. On a technical level, Microsoft might not be able to do anything to prevent it from happening anyway. Even Google-certified phones have ways to install apps from unverified sources, even more so a virtualized Android layer like what Microsoft is developing for Windows 11.

The bad news is that it could become a problem for both Microsoft and Windows users. The latter are already prone to just downloading programs off the Internet and installing them without a second thought. Android APKs floating around the Web aren’t exactly safer and, depending on Microsoft’s and Amazon’s implementation, could pose security risks for both Windows and Android systems running on the same machine.

It could also become a legal headache for Microsoft since one of the things users will most likely install are unofficial Google Play services or its equivalents. Those already run rampant around in the Android world but there are too many small players for Google to even bother with them. Microsoft, on the other hand, is a much larger target and Google could set its legal hounds on Redmond for enabling that use case.

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