Android-x86 4.4 RC1 review is a review of the latest development release of Android-x86, a port of Android designed to run on computers powered by Intel and AMD x86 processors, including netbooks and laptops and all-in-ones.
Given that major PC vendors now have (non-tablet) Android computers on the market, I think it is a good idea to have a version of Android that we can download and install on any PC just like we do our favorite Linux distributions.
It is in that spirit that I decided to take a look at this development release of Android-x86. This development release is based on Android 4.4.2 (KitKat-MR1 release), and according to the Release Notes, the ISO installation image comes in hybrid mode, which means that it can be loaded to a USB stick, as well as burned to a CD. (The ISO image is just 294 MB in size.)
The Release Notes also said that it comes with multi-touch support, besides also supporting Wi-Fi, audio, Bluetooth, G-sensor and camera. I have an all-in-one PC that has a single-touch-capable display, but before committing to loading it to a USB stick and running and installing it on that machine, I decided, like I do with all distributions that I review, to run it in a virtual machine. This screen shot shows the boot menu.
That installation to hard disk option looked like a good idea, so after booting and playing with the Live desktop for a few minutes, I rebooted the system and made a first attempt to install it to the virtual machine’s virtual disk. Note that the Release Notes does not say anything about being able to install it to a hard disk, but I’m guessing that option was put there for a reason. If it works, great, else, at least I tried.
The following screenshots show the steps involved in the attempt to install Android-x86 4.4 RC1 to a hard disk drive (HDD).
On a brand new system with no partitions on the HDD, you’ve got to first create the partition(s).
And the partition must be created with cfdisk.
Partition’s created, time to format it.
The project’s wiki page says that ext3 formatting is not supported, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. And as expected, after formatting and installing the system using ext3, the system will not boot. Ditto with ext2.
You do get this prompt regardless of the filesystem you choose to format the disk with.
And this one, too. But I found that whether GRUB is installed or not makes no difference. After installation, the system won’t boot.
This prompt is common to all filesystems.
But this one is shown to you only if ntfs and fat32 are chosen as filesystems.
A Yes from the previous screen will cause this one to be presented to you.
After installation has completed, this screen is shown. Rebooting is a waste of time, as the system will either display a GRUB Error 17, if that bootloader is installed, or a blinking cursor, if it is not.
And if Run Android-x86 is chosen from the previous screen, the system will hang at the step shown in this screenshot, but only if the HDD is formatted with ext3 and ext2.
If the HDD is formatted with ntfs or fat32, the system will boot into Android. So after playing with it in a virtual environment, I loaded the installation ISO image to a USB stick using UNetbootin and installed it on my all-in-one computer that has a single-touch display.
It worked well on the machine except that audio did not work and Wi-Fi could not be configured. Configuration of the wired connection via DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) was automatic and it worked. This screenshot shows the first setup screen.
After setup has been completed, bingo! The Android home page.
For a guy who has never used a real Android device (I’m still very happy with my HP Touchpad), seeing an app for a terminal emulator on Android is a good thing.
Good thing because it facilitates ssh-ing from the Android environment to any computer in my network and vice versa.
It can be somewhat disconcerting to be playing with the system and then have the screen suddenly turn sideways. That’s no big deal on a smartphone or a tablet, but in a virtual environment or a 21-inch all-in-one computer, it prompts you to look for a quick solution.
Luckily, the solution is universal – just disable screen rotation.
As I became familiar with the settings, there’s this feeling that all my information are belong to Google. I wish that there’s a truly Free Software/Open Source mobile operating system that I can use just like I use my Linux desktop. You know, one that does not funnel my whole digital life to some corporate behemoth.
I like the fact that this project is trying to port Android to standard computers, but Android computers from major PC vendors (and controlled by Google) are already in the market. What I’ll love to see is a port of Android that’s not controlled by Google (even if the project is not sponsored by Google, if you have to sign in with Google to use the device in a meaningful way, then it’s still controlled by Google.)
Replicant is an ongoing project, but it’s not moving in the same direction as Android-x86, and it lacks manpower. All that aside, I think Android-x86 is a good project. At least for people like me that don’t own an Android device and have no intention of buying one anytime soon, it enables us to play with the mobile OS. If you would like to do the same, you may download an installation image of Android-x86 4.4 RC1 from the home page.