Microsoft surprised Android developers last year with the launch of a brand new emulator designed for performance and features that aren't available anywhere else. While the initial Preview release only included an image for KitKat, subsequent updates introduced an expanded set of emulator images and some valuable new features. While a high-speed emulator is certainly compelling, many developers still didn't adopt it because it had to be downloaded and installed alongside a very large Visual Studio package, not to mention it was also frustrating to set up for use with other IDEs. Last week, Microsoft unburdened the emulator and released it as a standalone download along with step-by-step instructions to set it up to easily run with Android Studio and Eclipse with ADT.

Of course, the emulator requires a version of Windows with Hyper-V support, which includes Windows 8 Pro and Enterprise editions, and most of the Windows Server 2008 and 2012 family. It's also important to remember that Microsoft's emulator doesn't include support for Google Play services. This means a substantial number of applications can't be run on it without modification, but it can be useful for testing an app built without Play services integration.

The standalone download package includes the emulator and a few KitKat device profiles. Once it has been set up, additional profiles are available for download through the Profile Manager. Instructions for configuring Android Studio and Eclipse with ADT to use Microsoft's emulator are available in the blog post on MSDN. The steps are pretty simple and should only take a few minutes to complete.

The Dev Tools team at Google has acknowledged the stock emulator included with the Android SDK is painfully slow, and even confirmed at I/O 2015 that there are plans to improve it in the future. In the meantime, developers can take a look at Microsoft's Android emulator for a great free alternative with a number of capabilities.