Ever wanted to run Windows software on your Android device? Probably not… but what if you could? What if your Android device could finally act as a Windows desktop replacement, simply by running Windows software?
Recently, the Wine project has released an Android-compatible version. Long embraced by Linux users (mostly gamers) requiring a fix of their favorite Windows-only software, this option is now available on Android.
But does it work as well as expected? And why would you bother anyway, given the wealth of software available on Android? Let’s find out.
What Is Wine?
Often mistakenly described as an “emulator”, Wine (a recursive acronym that stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator) is in fact a compatibility layer. This is a software library that makes Linux, macOS and BSD capable of running Windows application. Although some emulation is involved (specifically, the Windows runtime environment), Wine does not emulate an operating system.
Over the years, Wine has become increasingly popular as a way to run Windows software on other platforms. While installing a virtual machine is one option (perhaps, say, to run Microsoft Office on Linux), Wine is arguably simpler to set up.
Wine has been available for ARM devices (such as the Raspberry Pi) for some time. Now Wine has been released for Android.
How to Install Wine on Android
Before installing Wine on your Android device, you’ll need to ensure you can install APKs.
Typically, the ability to install software on your phone or tablet is restricted to any source beyond the Google Play Store by default. Enable this by opening Settings > Security and tapping the switch for Unknown sources. Click OK to confirm the action.
Wine is available as an APK file for Android from the Wine download site.
Download: Wine for Android (Free)
Several versions are available for ARM processors (most Android devices) and x86 processors (mostly tablets, but only a small number). Identify which architecture your device has before downloading (you can check this by finding the device on Wikipedia).
After downloading to your device (or to your PC, before syncing to your favorite cloud drive), it’s time to install.
Tap the APK file, and agree to installation. Wait as it unpacks, then approve the installation; you’ll be notified that Wine needs access to record audio, and modify, delete, and read the contents of your device’s SD card. Audio recording is required by some apps you might wish to use in Wine.
Once installation is complete, hit open, and wait while the Windows environment is created.
Which Windows Apps Can You Run?
While Wine will run some software on ARM devices, the best results will be found on those x86-based Android devices.
Since you’re probably on an ARM-based Android device, you’ll be limited to apps that have been adapted for use on Windows RT. XDA-developers has produced a list of apps that run on ARM-based Windows devices, so this is a good place to start.
Among these apps are useful tools such as Audacity, Notepad++, FileZilla, Paint.NET. You’ll also find some retro games that have been open sourced. These include Doom and Quake 2, as well as open source clone OpenTTD, a version of Transport Tycoon.
As Wine’s popularity on Android and ARM devices increases, however, this list is bound to grow. We understand the Wine project is developing a method of using QEMU to emulate x86 instructions on ARM hardware, so this bodes well for the future.
Some Features Are Missing… For Now
Certain libraries and APIs are required for games to run. Some common APIs are currently missing from Wine on Android.
Missing, but likely to appear at some stage, are Direct3D 12, Vulkan, and full OpenGL ES support (to enable Direct3D; this is currently limited). Introducing these in Wine for Android will expand the selection of applications that can be used.
However, Wine is under constant development. As such, these features can be expected in a future release. Happily, Wine supports Direct3D 10 and 11, Direct3D command stream, and the Android graphics driver. Meanwhile, we can also enjoy improved DirectWrite and Direct2D support.
Exploring Wine on Android
When the software environment launches, you’ll find a standard Windows 7-style Start menu (with Wine logo), and a command line box.
To interact with Wine, you’ll need a keyboard (and maybe a mouse) attached to your Android device.
At this stage, shortly after Wine 3.0 for Android has been released, there is no support for software keyboards, although tapping is okay. The size of the desktop might be a problem, however; on the device I tested this on, a Samsung Galaxy S2 tablet, the Start button was tiny. To fix this, I switched the orientation to portrait mode and then back to landscape.
This is why a mouse, or perhaps a stylus, is a good idea.
Meanwhile, you can tap the Start button to find two menus. First is Control Panel, with sub-menus Add/Remove Programs, Game Controllers, and internet Settings. Second is Run…
Using Run… you can open a dialogue box to issue commands. For instance, launching internet Explorer is possible by entering iexplore.
All four options open a typical Windows-style screen to alter the settings.
Installing Software in Wine
To get something running in Wine, you’ll first need to download the application (or sync via the cloud) to your Android device. Save it in a memorable location, then navigate to it in the Wine Command Prompt window.
For instance, if I downloaded a Windows executable file (EXE) to my Android tablet, I’d save it to the Download folder. This can be reached in the command line with
To run the file in Wine for Android, simply input the name of the EXE file. (Some versions of Wine require you to prefix this with the wine command, but this isn’t necessary.)
If the ARM-ready file is compatible, it should run. Otherwise, you’ll see a bunch of error messages. At this stage, installing Windows software on Android in Wine isn’t an exact science.
Help, My Android Won’t Run Wine!
Having problems? Not all Android devices can run Wine. While it runs on my Galaxy Tab S2, it apparently doesn’t work on the Tab S. Similarly, the OnePlus 5T will run Wine, whereas the 2016 Google Pixel will not. Others with issues include the Xiaomi Mi5 and Huawei Mate 10.
Eventually compatibility will increase, and a list of supported devices will no doubt be created. Until then, it’s really a case of trial and error.
Meanwhile, if you own a Chromebook with Developer Mode enabled, you’ll be able to install Wine on a more suitable machine. Note that there is also a version of Crossover for Chrome OS, although this requires an x86 CPU.
Wine on Android: It’s Happening
In a development that seemed unlikely just five years ago, it is now possible to run Windows software on Android. While you might prefer to remote connect to a Windows PC via Android, or even stream games from your PC, this nevertheless offers a rare opportunity to take Windows with you.
The possibilities Wine on Android offers are considerable. While currently limited, it’s likely that what’s possible with Wine on your smartphone or tablet will increase over time, as bugs are ironed out and compatibility improved.