If you have ever used a smartphone then you probably know about the android OS, and that it is an operating system made mainly for smartphones and other small devices by Google.
Typically, Google releases the source code of all new android versions on its website. But those images are mainly meant to work on the ARM architecture (beside some other archs). Downloading them and trying to install them on your personal computer won’t simply work.
Android x86 is an open source project which aims to port the android system produced by Google into the x86 architecture. The project has been online for around 8 years porting various versions of android beside fixing bugs which arise from time to time. The code is released under Apache Public license 2.0 with some components being under GPL.
We’ve had a tutorial before on how to run android x86 on your Linux distribution inside QEMU to easily run android’s apps and games. Now, we try to highlight the current status of the project and how it is going on.
A Tour Inside Android x86
On its download page, the android x86 project provides various android images for both the 32 and 64 bit platforms. Additionally, you can also notice that some images exist for Cyangenmod. The android x86 project also works on porting these images to the x86 architectures.
The latest android release ported to x86 is 7.1 Nougat, which was released around 2 months ago. Cyangenmod 14.1 is also available as a release candidate.
Talking about numbers, there are thousands of downloads for these images per day. The download mirrors are hosted on OSDN. The average number of downloads per month is around 125 thousands:
Overall, there are around 2.8 million downloads for the project files from OSDN in just the last one and half years. (This doesn’t cover the previous download locations of the projects). It’s a really popular and important project, and thousands of people are benefiting from this work.
One can easily notice that they are also using OSDN to host the Git repository of the project containing tens of various branches which are being worked on. However, we thought that using a more popular service like GitHub/GitLab could have been a better option for the Git repository, and we wondered about why they chose this platform.
We’ve contacted the project lead, Chih-Wei Huang, to ask him about project as a whole and this point in particular, this was his answer:
GitLab/Github doesn’t support “hierarchical path” (I.e a repo path like git://…/dir1/dir2/dir3/…) that is used by AOSP. Of course some AOSP based projects don’t care that much, they just host in Github/Gitlab by jumbling the path, but that’s a headache to me.
OSDN didn’t support “hierarchical path” before. I asked them to add the feature for me. They agreed and implemented the feature I want. I very appreciate that. On the other hand, Github/Gitlab are probably too popular to care for my project.
Besides, OSDN maintains the Git repository very well. Since we moved to OSDN, I didn’t encounter or hear issues about syncing git repository any more. I am grateful for OSDN to provide such a nice hosting.
Current Porting Status
Regarding the current status of the porting process, the developers are working hard to finish the first release candidate of Android 8.1 Oreo:
It’s near the 8.1-rc1. There are still some minor issues to be fixed especially in the new kernel 4.14. We will move to latest LTS kernel 4.14 but there are some regressions found on some devices. I hope I can finish and release 8.1-rc1 before the end of April but I can’t guarantee.
Perhaps this slow but stable process takes so much time because of limited number of developers they have:
We only have 2-3 active developers now including me and we only do it in our free time.
We asked them about if there’s page to follow the current status?
Sorry. One can only follow (sync) our git repo to understand the latest status. Actually we have no website maintainer.
The Financial & Hardware Issues
The android x86 project doesn’t charge any cost for the images it produces. Anyone can access the full source code or download the images for free. The project is currently depending on donations to sustain itself, but sadly, like many open source projects, the amounts of donations are so small.
Additionally, many different hardware devices are needed to test the images and enhance the compatibility with them. The developers hope for hardware vendors to support them regarding this:
Small donations don’t help much. If someone donates a lot to hire experienced kernel or graphic stack developers for us, the story could have been changed. Donating devices may be more helpful. I especially hope some big hardware vendors can donate their popular products to us so we can improve the support on them.
When we asked about why they don’t setup a Patreon/Liberapay page in order to receive better donations and keep track of everything, which is very common in the open source projects world, they said:
Even we want to do so, [but] I have no idea how to set up such a page. We need a website maintainer. Actually we have no website maintainer.
It sounds like this amazing project which serves hundreds of thousands of users around the world is struggling to maintain itself. The whole show is managed only by 3 developers and there’s no web administrator to run over such issues, which is very sad to hear. Because when asked about final words to the audience, Huang said:
I have to say “thank you” to people who use and love my project. That’s the main reason I keep doing the project for the 8+ years. I hope more people can join the community.
A Call To Join & Spread the Word
As you should have already known by now, the android x86 project is in need for help. If you are a webmaster who has some free time to spare, we recommend that you contact the team directly and try to get in.
Additionally, the android x86 project depends on donations to cover its expenses. If you have extra few dollars to spare, consider supporting them via PayPal, Bitcoin or banking transaction.
If you are working in a common hardware vendor, you may also try to contact your managers and see if they can offer anything for this project.
Or you may just spread the word to your friends and colleagues, and tell them the story of this amazing project.
Hanny is a computer science & engineering graduate with a master degree, and an open source software developer. He has created a lot of open source programs over the years, and maintains separate online platforms for promoting open source in his local communities.
Hanny is the founder of FOSS Post.
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