Microsoft Might Be Working on a Windows ‘Handheld Mode’ for Steam Deck

The Steam Deck lying on a white surface
Credit: Edgar Almeida/Unsplash

The Steam Deck lying on a white surface

Just because you can technically install Windows on a number of devices doesn’t mean it’ll be comfortable to use. Microsoft is working to fill this gap by toying with a handheld mode for Windows to make the operating system more compatible with devices like the Steam Deck. 

Valve’s handheld gaming console runs on Linux by default, but some users have experimented with installing Windows to make the device more like a mini PC. There are a number of how-to guides on adding Windows 10 or 11 to the Steam Deck. Installing the operating system tends to be a little anticlimactic; once it’s added, it becomes clear that Windows isn’t meant for devices that lack a mouse or keyboard and use an itty-bitty 7-inch screen. The user interface shrinks dramatically, making each button tiny and difficult to press. 

This might not be the case forever. A Microsoft enthusiast who goes by WalkingCat on Twitter shared a pair of presentations Wednesday that appear to show off a Steam Deck-specific version of Windows. The first video explains that the current Windows experience on Steam Deck is rife with controller, UI, and memory issues, even going so far as to include a few negative YouTube videos and articles by people who have tried it. Thirty seconds before the video’s end, it’s revealed that someone named Dorothy Feng spearheaded a “handheld sprint” at Microsoft’s September 2022 hackathon that aims to size up the UI and make it compatible with the Steam Deck’s hardware. 

Two screenshots depicting what Windows could look like on the Steam Deck.
Credit: Twitter user _h0x0d_ "WalkingCat"

WalkingCat’s second video digs further into the idea. One slide depicts a first-time setup screen that introduces the UI and walks through driver installation. Another shows off a touch-screen keyboard sized specifically for the Steam Deck’s screen and made compatible with the console’s built-in buttons and joysticks. Yet another slide shows a carousel-style game launcher reminiscent of the Nintendo Switch. The presentation lists other desired changes like improved UI scaling, control mapping, and app screen sizes. 

WalkingCat’s first video features a screen with the Windows and Steam Deck logos united by a plus sign, suggesting the two brands might be in cahoots. But that’s also a pretty heavy read on my part; anyone with some time and a bit of skill can make a professional-looking hackathon presentation and post it on Twitter, and that could be all WalkingCat has done. Microsoft hasn’t included the project in any of its Windows Insider Preview channels, but maybe—hopefully—Microsoft is just keeping it under wraps for now.

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