In a blog post, Microsoft indicated that it's working with Xiaomi to build a Windows 10 ROM for the Xiaomi Mi 4 smartphone, which is currently running Android. The software will be offered to a select group of Xiaomi customers. Microsoft wants to give Xiaomi Mi 4 users the ability to install Windows 10 on their devices to provide the company with feedback on their experience with the software.
“Through a new program with Xiaomi, one of the top smartphone distributors in the world, a select group of Xiaomi Mi 4 power users will be invited to help test Windows 10 and contribute to its future release later this year," said Microsoft in a blog post. "These power users will have the opportunity to download the Windows 10 Technical Preview – installing it and providing their feedback to Microsoft."
Xiaomi, now the world's largest OEM by sales thanks to its rapid rise in popularity in China, has actually grown from a group of people developing a custom ROM for Android, called MIUI. Xiaomi's fans and customers are well used to the idea of installing other ROMs on their phones, so Microsoft may want to take advantage of this to test out the idea of having users install Windows 10 on their mobile devices, which would be similar to how people can install Windows on desktop machines.
It's not clear, though, how far Microsoft is willing to take this, even if the results of the first test with the Xiaomi Mi 4 are satisfying for the company. Would Microsoft then try to support all future Xiaomi devices with this "Windows ROM?" Would it then try to support devices from other OEMs? What about devices that already exist on the market?
Microsoft has decades of experience in dealing with drivers for a variety of PC and notebook components and knows how to make one piece of software that works across many different hardware configurations. If anyone would be willing to do this in mobile, too, Microsoft seems like the right company to try it.
However, in many ways, the mobile ecosystem is much more complicated than the PC ecosystem ever was. For one thing, from the very beginning, Windows appeared on machines that were IBM or "IBM-compatible." Once there was already a standard for hardware that works well with Windows, it wasn't that much harder to just evolve the hardware along those lines.
In the mobile market, OEMs have pretty much gone their own way for a long time. The phone companies have even used their own proprietary operating systems, so there was no need to standardize on hardware, either.
Google then came along and brought things together a little more with Android, by getting all the phone OEMs to build hardware for one target OS. The OEMs didn't have to all use the same type of hardware, but it was certainly easier to go with hardware that's already supported by Google's operating system.
However, that still leaves the Android ecosystem far behind the PC Windows ecosystem in terms of standardization in hardware. Even if Microsoft is committed to making it so every Android user can install Windows on his or her phone, that is not going to happen overnight.
Microsoft will likely slowly expand the support for different hardware, while at the same time try to convince OEMs (which may not be so interested in making Windows work on their devices) to standardize on hardware and create drivers for the Windows ROM. This is an effort that could take several years to reach the level of maturity that the PC ecosystem has, even if everyone is on board with the idea. It could take even longer if they aren't.
At the same time, Microsoft's move could also nudge Google to work on making Android installable on any Android device, as well. Until now, Google hasn't seen the need to invest in making this possible, especially if the OEMs were hostile to the idea. But if OEMs already agree to let Microsoft do it with Windows, they might be warming up to the idea of a single Android master ROM that can be installed on any Android device, as well.
Once Google releases the latest Android version, if users could download it for free and install it on their devices, this could finally solve Android's update problem. If smartphone and tablet users could one day choose between installing the latest Android or Windows version on their devices, that should increase the competition between the two operating systems, which should lead to more innovation and more benefits for the users.
We reached out to Microsoft for comment, but the company said it can't reveal anymore information for now, as the Windows 10 software for the Xiaomi Mi 4 is still a few months out. The company did confirm that for now, the program only includes the Xiaomi Mi 4. We'll have to wait until the Windows 10 rollout for Xiaomi Mi 4 happens to get new information.