If you’re someone who’s tried Windows on a handheld, whether it be the Steam Deck or the myriad of niche Windows handhelds, you’ll know it’s not a pleasant time. Well some employees at Microsoft agree as shown in a leaked 2022 Microsoft Hackathon presentation. Originally tweeted out by @_h0x0d_, there are two short videos acknowledging the success of the Steam Deck and how Windows on the Deck is currently a less than optimal experience.
In the videos the narrator explains Windows’ shortcoming on Deck such as no native controller support, some games unable to interpret the portrait display, and the Windows keyboard layout just looking screwy.
Their answer? Actually acknowledge these devices exist. Starting with creating a UI optimized for handhelds that’s able to quickly launch games from any launcher along with a controller friendly keyboard.
The videos even mention an onboarding welcome wizard to handheld mode which would go a long way for people picking up a PC handheld for the first time, like we might see with the Asus ROG Ally. In the videos they demoed all of this on an Ayaneo Next and a Steam Deck so it shows these employees are aiming to create a better experience on all PC gaming handhelds and not just the deck.
While it’s very encouraging to see Microsoft internally discuss ways to win over PC gamers with a new focus on handhelds, I just still don’t see how it can compete with the likes of SteamOS. Valve managed to create a super efficient Linux operating system that can get the most out of their hardware and deliver on all the features we want in a handheld and more.
Don’t get me wrong, a Steam Deck running Windows that can actually be ready to use out of the box sounds great, in theory...
But even if Microsoft creates this handheld UI, you’re still running full fat Windows with all the unneeded processes and telemetry. You still have the mandatory and inextricable Desktop Compositor ready at any moment to steal focus from your game or the handheld UI.
There’s no way Microsoft would turn off this junk just to make a better experience for a fraction of their PC market.
Companies like Ayaneo and GPD have long had to grapple with Windows on their handhelds. Most of them have developed specific software to keep you as far away from the Windows desktop as possible. GPD has known Windows is a nightmare on handhelds for so long that each of their Windows devices have a dedicated toggle switch to set the built-in controller to mouse and keyboard input.
The demand for a usable gaming UI has been around so long that dedicated software like LaunchBox and Playnite have developed communities around said software. There’s even a new project aimed to mimic the Steam Deck’s Quick Access Menu for Windows.
Recently YouTuber Cary Golomb AKA The Phawx released a video speculating the Xbox Series S has always been Microsoft’s way to developers to optimize their games for a future Xbox handheld. While I think Cary is incredibly intelligent in the realm of PC handhelds, I think the fact that the Hackathon presentation ends with practically begging Microsoft to pay attention to this growing demand for PC handheld demonstrates Microsoft’s lack of development for handhelds.
Nowhere in the Hackathon video do they mention improving sleep function for handhelds like the Steam Deck’s amazing Switch-like sleep mode. No mention of slimming down Windows and no mention of providing users advanced control over power settings like TDP. When contrasted with SteamOS' or even ChimeraOS' frictionless user experience, Windows just doesn't hold up. I think even with every idea proposed in the video these Linux alternatives just do it better.
The primary reason people put Windows on their Steam Deck is for wider game compatibility and Game Pass. Although with the Steam Deck possibly set to reach 3 million sales this year, I think even the most hesitant developers will come around to supporting the Steam Deck and Linux.
So what do you think? If Microsoft implements handheld optimizations are you going to switch to Windows? Are you currently a WinDecker? Do you think we’ll eventually see an Xbox handheld? Let us know in the comments down below!