Microsoft is experimenting with Windows portable mode for Steam Deck and more

by The Insights

Microsoft is exploring early concepts around a Windows portable mode for devices like the Steam Deck. A leaked video posted on Twitter by h0x0d shows early concept and prototype work for a Windows 11 user interface optimized for handhelds, as well as a Windows game launcher and shell designed for touchscreens and controllers.

The video is part of a hackathon project within Microsoft starting in September, where employees regularly pitch ideas or projects that sometimes end up gaining support from Microsoft executives and eventually getting shipped.

While it’s unclear who is narrating the video, they do a good job of highlighting all of the current issues with running Windows on a portable gaming device like the Steam Deck. Valve offers drivers for Windows on the Steam Deck, but the Windows UI is difficult to navigate with touch or a controller, and there’s no dedicated launcher like SteamOS.

The video references a portable working prototype created by Dorothy Feng, senior UX designer at Microsoft. It includes a launcher that can open games from Steam, PC Game Pass, EA Play, Epic Games Store, etc. This portable gaming prototype also features a Steam Deck-optimized keyboard that can be navigated using a controller, and even a floating taskbar that we’ve seen Microsoft tease before.

The team working on this hackathon project also started working with a developer who created a way to use Steam Deck controls on Windows. There’s even a custom game shell for Windows created by Hayden McAfee, a senior software engineer at Microsoft who works on game experiences for Windows.

The hackathon project resulted in a setup experience where drivers and services are installed, the controller works, and there is a launcher to quickly launch games from different stores. It looks like very early work and there is a long list of issues and optimizations that would be needed in Windows and the Xbox app for Microsoft to make this a reality.

At the end of the video, there is a call to action for other Microsoft employees to “take Windows portable gaming seriously” which can help improve Microsoft’s image and credibility in the gaming community. PC games.

Although this project was never delivered, it is encouraging to see Microsoft employees pushing for it to happen. Microsoft was quick to support Xbox Cloud Gaming on the Steam Deck, but we’ve heard little about its Windows ambitions for portable gaming outside of this leaked presentation.

A number of Switch-like portable gaming devices from GPD and OneXPlayer or even the Ayaneo 2 rely on Windows without an optimized user interface from Microsoft. This means companies have to create their own interfaces and launchers to make Windows more friendly to controllers and handhelds.

There are signs that we’ll start to see even more Windows portable devices soon too. Asus just announced its ROG Ally, which aims to take on the Steam Deck and is powered by a custom Ryzen APU from AMD and Windows 11. A Windows portable mode certainly makes a lot of sense right now.

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