B efore you dismiss the idea of running an OS designed for mobile devices on a regular PC, spare a thought for those unused netbooks stashed in the attic. The Android x86 project is ideal for making those under-powered PC usable again.
The project started off as a series of patches to the vanilla open source Android code to get it working on netbooks and has grown into a distro for a wide range of 32-bit PCs.
The project has recently released the first stable build based on Android KitKat v4.4.2. It includes a recent stable kernel as well as a variety of drivers and libraries, which it can run on a huge range of hardware, support different types of peripherals and can even handle Full HD multimedia content.
The project is available as a 360MB Live installable image. You can ddthe hybrid images on to a USB stick and boot from it. The boot menu gives you the option to either boot into the Live Android environment or to install the distro. You should first boot into the Live environment to check hardware support for your PC. On our test machine, an Acer Aspire 5738PZG, the distro picked up all the relevant peripherals including the microphone, speakers, bluetooth, wireless card, camera and even the touchscreen. It was also content with its ATI graphics card and was running Android in the laptop’s native wide-screen resolution.
A rudimentary but functional installer will permanently install Android x86 on your PC. Partitioning is handled by the command-line Gpartedtool, however it will detect any existing ext3/4, FAT and NTFS partitions.
The installer offers to install the GRUB boot loader, however you shouldn’t install it on a multi-boot machine and instead modify the existing boot loader to point to the Android x86 installation.
Glad to be of service On first boot, you’ll have to setup Android x86 just like you’d setup a normal Android tablet. Once it’s up and running, Android x86 looks and behaves like regular Android. It uses the Trebuchet launcher developed by the CyanogenMod project. The environment is also very responsive and so are the applications. The default environment ships with over a dozen apps and all of them work straight outof-the-box with the exception of phonespecific apps. You can also pull in additional apps from the Google Play store. We tried a bunch of apps and games and they all worked well.
Apps that run in vertical orientation can be tricky to use on a normal PC.
Even after you exit the app, the orientation remains fixed in the vertical position, probably as our the PC lacked a gyroscope. The solution is to lock the screen to the horizontal orientation as soon as you boot into the desktop.
By default the on-screen keyboard isn’t used, expecting you to use your real keyboard. Multi-tasking is easier on Android x86 than on a traditional Android device as you can use the Alt+Tab key combination to switch between apps. If you are running Android x86 on a PC without a touchscreen you can navigate with the touchpad or the attached mouse. If you mount any removable devices, such as USB disks or an SD card, Android x86 will automatically mount them and you can access them via the file manager.
The project has introduced a very interesting option for old hardware.
Android can’t compete with a regular desktop distro in terms of operational flexibility, but it does infuse a familiar and usable environment in an otherwise defunct machine.