You can install Windows on Valve’s Steam Deck, but the operating system isn’t really designed for the form factor. The user interface elements aren’t optimized for small screens, you can’t use the controllers for common Windows functions built for mouse and keyboard input. And while there’s an Xbox app for gaming, you need to use third-party software if you want a truly console-like game launcher experience.

So last year a Microsoft employee created a Windows Handheld Mode prototype during a hackathon, imagining what Windows 11 would look like if it were truly optimized for the Steam Deck and other handhelds. There’s a decent chance this will never move beyond the prototype stage, but it’s been garnering attention since WalkingCat posted two short videos of a presentation about the project this week, so it’s possible that  buzz could help breathe new life into the project.

Among other things, the Handheld Mode demo videos show a setup and driver installation screen, a game-centric launcher that lets you quickly get to all the games installed on the computer, and a Handheld Mode settings screen that lets you adjust power settings, map the Steam Deck’s buttons to different functions, and more.

One of the reasons the Steam Deck ships with the an Arch Linux-based operating system called SteamOS rather than Windows is because Valve was able to heavily customize the software to make it play well with a small screen, integrated controllers, and other hardware that helped set it apart from most Windows PCs.

But despite Valve’s efforts to build software that lets you run many Windows games on the Linux-based operating system, not all games are supported. And SteamOS is obviously tightly integrated with the Steam game client, while Windows allows you to use other platforms like the Epic Games Store, GOG, or Xbox.

Of course, there are companies like AYA, Anbernic, GPD, and One Netbook that sell handhelds that come with Windows pre-installed. And Asus will join their ranks soon. But so far they’ve relied on a hodgepodge of third-party solutions running on top of Windows in an effort to make the operating system work better on gaming handhelds.

If Microsoft did ever build a true Handheld Mode feature for the Steam Deck, it would likely be adaptable for use on other gaming handhelds.

via Ars Technica

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  1. Any chance they can easily port this to a phone? My wife still whines about her Nokia Windows Mobile and I gotta admit it was better (excepting available apps) than the other options.

    1. No, Microsoft doesn’t follow up on anything hardware, they only support the latest and even restrict it to having some specific chips to try to make up for their abysmal security practices.

  2. I’m pretty sure nothing on Steam OS stops you from running the “backup offline installers” you can download from GoG. It might throw a fit over Epic’s DRM though.