Android x86
September 25, 2015 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Here is Android x86, an open source project which allows you to put Google's Android OS on PC hardware. While there is some software that won't work, it's surprisingly capable! While obviously best for netbooks it's capable of running on many laptops, or you could consider running it in a virtual machine if you just want to run Android software on your PC for a bit. Here's the download page (the proper boot media can be found under "Android-x86-4.4") and installation instructions.
posted by JHarris (50 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have personally run this on an older laptop for a fair bit, and it's more useable than you'd think. Android has pretty good peripheral support, and can use mice and keyboards easily.
posted by JHarris at 1:58 PM on September 25, 2015


Hmmm... wonder if it will work in a virtual machine, so I can play with it.
posted by mondo dentro at 2:03 PM on September 25, 2015


I had trouble in my testing getting it to install to a Virtual Box hard disk in my test, but the word is many people do run it in a virtual machine. It might be worth digging into a bit.
posted by JHarris at 2:04 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Poor Intel is really in a bad place right now. They really want mobile devices on intel, but between pricing and power envelopes, few device makers leave ARM. Almost every collaboration in the Intel embedded world I can recall has failed to produce a lasting product / market: Moblin, maemo/meego, and Ubuntu's lpia all came up short with their business partners walking. And every year ARM devices march a bit further upstream, from mobile, to laptops, to servers, and maybe even desktops.

At this point Intel's saving grace is going to be diversification, and the Windows ecosystem being far from prepared for multiarch.
posted by pwnguin at 2:05 PM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


So there must have been a fair amount of desire for this to have developers actually implement it. I can't really get my head around that though. Why would you want to run a touch-based OS with tons of touch-optimized apps on a platform with no touchscreen?

My mother has a Chromebook and that seems like a much better solution. Or something like Mint, if you want more capability.

Also, doesn't Android support x86 anyway? So this is a distribution you can install yourself? I recall seeing some (Dell?) x86 Android stuff a while back.

(admittedly I have actually grown to sort of hate Android)
posted by selfnoise at 2:10 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


So there must have been a fair amount of desire for this to have developers actually implement it. I can't really get my head around that though. Why would you want to run a touch-based OS with tons of touch-optimized apps on a platform with no touchscreen?

I don't believe there is much that cannot be connected to a PC, and touchscreen monitors have been around for quite a while. Have you used a touchscreen ATM recently? I've seen one recently that was sitting on a blue screen of death.
posted by hellphish at 2:13 PM on September 25, 2015


My experience with it is that Android x86 works pretty well on standard PC hardware so long as your apps don't need multitouch (which many don't). I've even seen seen some Android 3D games working on my old laptop. One app I couldn't get working, however, was Netflix.

Note, however, I love ARM as a platform. Intel's hegemony has harmed computing in general, and their gradual sidelining is long overdue.
posted by JHarris at 2:14 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Manymo uses Android x86 running on AWS instances to provide Android in the browser.

Android does support x86 natively, the linked project is just a distribution/build of the AOSP tree that is x86-specific. It's done by Chi-Wei Huang who is a well-known open source advocate.
posted by miyabo at 2:16 PM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


One app I couldn't get working, however, was Netflix.

I imagine Netflix and other media apps/games have ARM native code in addition to Android bytecode.
posted by miyabo at 2:16 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


At this point Intel's saving grace is going to be diversification, and the Windows ecosystem being far from prepared for multiarch.

Doesn't (didn't) Windows RT run on ARM?
posted by a lungful of dragon at 2:17 PM on September 25, 2015


EVERYTHING even remotely worthwhile targets ARM... I miss Rockbox :(
posted by mikelieman at 2:19 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Doesn't (didn't) Windows RT run on ARM?

Windows Metro ran on ARM. Then everyone figured out that nobody gives a flying fuck about Windows Metro.
posted by Talez at 2:20 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


the Windows ecosystem being far from prepared for multiarch

I thought that was one of the goals of the Windows 10/Windows everywhere stuff? MS is using the Minecraft for Windows 10 (based on the Minecraft PE, as opposed to regular Minecraft in Java) as the poster child for portable apps. One codebase for PCs, xbox and phones.
posted by bonehead at 2:21 PM on September 25, 2015


Why would you want to run a touch-based OS with tons of touch-optimized apps on a platform with no touchscreen?

Because those apps only work on android otherwise, and it would be nice to have some of them run on the desktop? (e.g. if I want to use Instagram from my desktop)
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 2:22 PM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


On tablets at least, Android can use a mouse very easily in place of touch. Not quite the same, but similar enough to be pretty transparent. You can even plug a mouse into most Android phones if you feel strongly enough about it.
posted by bonehead at 2:25 PM on September 25, 2015


Windows RT is still around and does still run on ARM, but it seems like Intel is now prepared to offer low-power parts such that there might not be a real market space for it.

Because those apps only work on android otherwise, and it would be nice to have some of them run on the desktop? (e.g. if I want to use Instagram from my desktop)

I think this is where my Android weariness is just blinding me. I literally can't imagine why you would want to use an Android app.
posted by selfnoise at 2:25 PM on September 25, 2015


I tried this out in a VM when I was experimenting with Android Development as an alternative to the emulator. It worked pretty well, but debugging was just enough of a hassle that I stopped using it.

The emulator's performance problems are very exaggerated, anyway. If you run a x86 image in the emulator and enable the hardware assisted virtualization stuff, it runs perfectly fine even on slow hardware.

I think this is where my Android weariness is just blinding me. I literally can't imagine why you would want to use an Android app.

Huh.
posted by zixyer at 2:27 PM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


On the desktop, sorry. I didn't intend to be that hyperbolic.

It's friday, I'm real tired, imma shut up now
posted by selfnoise at 2:29 PM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Isn't Android software developed on PCs? How is this different from a dev kit?
posted by straight at 2:35 PM on September 25, 2015


Windows 10 also has a special version intended for devices like Raspberry Pi (which are ARM), called Windows IoT ("Internet of Things"), but I don't know much else about it.
posted by JHarris at 2:37 PM on September 25, 2015


Bluestacks is the Android emulator I've been using.
posted by adept256 at 2:40 PM on September 25, 2015


straight, Android x86 isn't a dev kit at all, it's a platform that runs pre-written Android software. In fact, with it you can go on the Play store and run much of the software there directly.
posted by JHarris at 2:40 PM on September 25, 2015


Somewhat related: Here's how to run Android apps on Chrome with Google's new tool

Tried this a while back and a lot of apps seemed to work okay. Not at all a full solution, but being able to run Android apps in a browser instead of having to create a VM or dedicate a machine to it is pretty neat.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:41 PM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I tried using Bluestacks once, I was left unenthused.
posted by JHarris at 2:41 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


To run Android apps on a PC, there are also commercial emulators like BlueStacks, AMIDuOS and Andy. You can also use Google's ARC Welder or the emulator in the Android SDK. There are pros and cons of each.

This project seems aimed toward giving netbooks a viable alternative to Windows or desktop Linux. The very first Android device had a physical keyboard, so not having a touchscreen isn't a deal-breaker (tho I've no idea how well keyboards are supported in modern apps).
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:43 PM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


The best Android on Windows experience I've had is with AMIDuos, however I'm running on a Surface which has a touch screen. Good performance, and it was very easy to configure, the downside is battery life is not very good.
posted by Harpocrates at 2:46 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah. FWIW, the only usable way to emulate Android is to emulate the x86 branch -- the Android Emulator's ARM emulation is slow to the point that it's unusable (which is impressive, given that the x86 emulation is shockingly terrible as well).

As an unintended consequence, this means that almost every android app runs seamlessly on x86, because the x86 emulator is (by far) the most straightforward way for the developer could test the thing while it was being built.

Apple deserves major credit for the quality and speed of the iOS emulator in XCode. I still can't get over how unbelievably and inexplicably terrible AOSP and the general Android developer community are.

I say this as a person who is 110% on Team Android.
posted by schmod at 2:59 PM on September 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


I literally can't imagine why you would want to use an Android app [on the desktop]

App development on mobile ownz. By that I mean, home/casual app development on mobile is so much larger, and so much deeper, than on Mac OS X and Windows, that the desktops now feel hampered and incapable. I have video streaming apps, games, photo apps, and similar, for which there is nothing like them on the desktop -- and in some cases I have many more options. Plus, mobile apps are cheaper. They also do things -- like location-centric things -- that should be a natural for a laptop, too, but nobody is building them for laptops. That goes for autocomplete/autosuggest and personal typing dictionaries, which are far superior on mobile -- just imagine how your fingers could fly if you had that on the desktop.
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:10 PM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]



Poor Intel is really in a bad place right now... And every year ARM devices march a bit further upstream, from mobile, to laptops, to servers, and maybe even desktops.


One of the things that struck me most from one of the recent iPhone 6S reviews: “The new iPhone 6S beats the new MacBook in single-core performance on Geekbench, and is within spitting distance in multi-core.” I can imagine that that's not doing much to set Intel management and/or shareholders at ease. The fact that Apple are now pushing developers for their platforms to publish software in Bitcode, an intermediate bytecode, which can be compiled to arbitrary architectures on demand, is probably not helping. (Granted, it's currently on iOS, which in a parallel universe would allow Apple to ditch ARM for Intel, but that's extremely unlikely to happen.) When Apple introduce Bitcode for the OSX App Store and/or the OSX installer, then it'll really be time for Intel to worry. (Apple did switch to Intel from PowerPC, with more difficulty because the tools weren't as refined. Were Apple to announce an ARM-based MacBook line, the transition away from Intel would be a lot smoother.)

Intel have tried to break away from the x86 architecture several times, and each attempt (i860, ia64) has been a technical failure. They even bought DEC's Alpha architecture, but seemingly to kill it as a rival and assign its talent to their own projects. It does look like they're stuck leveraging their (admittedly superior) fab technology to keep squeezing as much out of the x86 architecture as they can.

(Having said that, I am currently preparing to build a new Linux box, to replace a 5-year-old machine; the CPU I bought is an Intel Core i7. When the time comes, some years down the line, to replace this machine, I'm not confident that the replacement will run the x86 instruction set.)
posted by acb at 3:24 PM on September 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


Apple deserves major credit for the quality and speed of the iOS emulator in XCode.

That's probably because it's not actually an emulator but a simulator; the compiled iOS apps are actually OSX apps which communicate with a display server and run OSX-hosted ports of the iOS frameworks.
posted by acb at 3:25 PM on September 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


Hmm. Is there any way to use this to be able to send and receive txts and chat application messages? There has to be some kinda way to connect to my mobile provider connecting my device to a PC.

Rationale being that, although I've gotten faster at thumb typing than I ever thought I could, I still want to use my actual keyboard. And how nice would to receive a message, alt+tab over to an android window, and respond, all without lifting hands from the keyboard? Dude can dream, I guess.
posted by wires at 3:29 PM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


straight, Android x86 isn't a dev kit at all, it's a platform that runs pre-written Android software.

Right. I was wondering how this differs from the emulator presumably included in the Android dev kit. I had assumed something like this would have existed since Android began because of the need to develop apps on a PC.
posted by straight at 3:30 PM on September 25, 2015


That goes for autocomplete/autosuggest and personal typing dictionaries, which are far superior on mobile -- just imagine how your fingers could fly if you had that on the desktop.

But autocomplete is a palliative for the relative impossibility of typing accurately on such a small keyboard. I can't see it improving typing speed for any but the most miserable of typists using a real keyboard.

I feel like similar arguments stand for all of the other features of Android. They're tailored to the limitations and affordances of a mobile device. I don't know why I would want to run it on a PC, and thereby forego running any of my usual desktop applications while doing so, for the purpose of running mobile apps.
posted by invitapriore at 3:40 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well it would be interesting to run a stripped down Vista machine on Android, and use the phone to link to the web. This probably just shows my ignorance. However my Android provides faster internet on my laptop than the wifi at the library.
posted by Oyéah at 3:49 PM on September 25, 2015


Granted, it's currently on iOS, which in a parallel universe would allow Apple to ditch ARM for Intel, but that's extremely unlikely to happen

There've been rumors that Apple would transition its lower-end portables to ARM ever since the MacBook Air was first introduced. It makes a lot of sense for a company that has spent the last few product cycles shaving every last tenth of a millimeter and gram from its portable products. A more efficient chip means you can sacrifice battery capacity and reduce overall thickness/weight without impacting battery life or performance.

And like they used to say about OS X and x86 in the olden days -- you can bet that Apple already has desktop OS X running on ARM.
posted by nathan_teske at 3:56 PM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I played around with this maybe a year ago and it was quite nice on a touchscreen laptop. I find android much more usable than windows when touch is involved. I currently have a cheap seven inch windows tablet and would prefer android on it in terms of interface and touch friendly apps.

Hmm. Is there any way to use this to be able to send and receive txts and chat application messages? There has to be some kinda way to connect to my mobile provider connecting my device to a PC.

There are several apps that provide something like this already. One like mightytext does it through an app (apps can request permission to read and write to the sms store) and a web service. There are security concerns with something like that though. I used airdroid for it before where the phone itself hosted a webapp server and it stayed within my network though I am not sure if the current version still allows this.
posted by manbagofmanifestdestiny at 3:56 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


There've been rumors that Apple would transition its lower-end portables to ARM ever since the MacBook Air was first introduced. It makes a lot of sense for a company that has spent the last few product cycles shaving every last tenth of a millimeter and gram from its portable products. A more efficient chip means you can sacrifice battery capacity and reduce overall thickness/weight without impacting battery life or performance.

Also, the fact that, with their ARM chips, Apple control the architecture far more tightly (they licence the instruction set and implement it themselves rather than using prebuilt ARM cores, and have been doing an impressive job at optimising each iteration of the A series) would place Intel at a disadvantage. From what I understand, Intel have been bending over backwards to keep Apple happy, giving them privileged access to new architectures and running off custom variants of their CPUs for them, though at the end of the day, the fact that Apple aren't in control of the Intel CPUs in their OSX machines must be a sticking point.
posted by acb at 4:02 PM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Apple are now pushing developers for their platforms to publish software in Bitcode, an intermediate bytecode, which can be compiled to arbitrary architectures on demand

There are some that claim Bitcode is not really target independent but probably is designed to optimize software on future ARM cores.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:31 PM on September 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Poor Intel is really in a bad place right now. They really want mobile devices on intel, but between pricing and power envelopes, few device makers leave ARM.

I actually have an Android tablet with an Intel Atom processor. It's ok but the battery life on standby leaves a lot to be desired.
posted by MikeMc at 5:14 PM on September 25, 2015


The new Macbook isn't exactly a great comparison, because it's positively anemic as far as modern laptops go.

For the size, yeah, it's pretty impressive, but the the thin chassis probably cuts the usable PCB/battery space to something that's pretty comparable to one of the larger iPhones... Comparable performance is about what I'd expect.
posted by schmod at 5:19 PM on September 25, 2015


Were Apple to announce an ARM-based MacBook line,

They have more or less, whether that was their intention for the new iPad pro or not.
posted by bonehead at 5:57 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hmm. Is there any way to use this to be able to send and receive txts and chat application messages? There has to be some kinda way to connect to my mobile provider connecting my device to a PC.

Rationale being that, although I've gotten faster at thumb typing than I ever thought I could, I still want to use my actual keyboard.


This is one of the big reasons I love Apple. Part of my job is dispatch, and I use Messages on the Mac to text our reps in the field, who all have iPhones. If there was a seamless way to do this for Android users, I could see where that would really come in handy for a lot of users. iMessage works over wifi, is there something similar for Android that does not require a mobile/cellular connection?
posted by xedrik at 6:03 PM on September 25, 2015


This is one of the big reasons I love Apple. Part of my job is dispatch, and I use Messages on the Mac to text our reps in the field, who all have iPhones. If there was a seamless way to do this for Android users, I could see where that would really come in handy for a lot of users. iMessage works over wifi, is there something similar for Android that does not require a mobile/cellular connection?

I worked in a company that had terrible cell reception but bullet proof campus-wide wifi. I ended up using Facetime Audio to contact all of my iPhone toting colleagues and it was a billion times better than a patchy cell audio connection.
posted by Talez at 6:12 PM on September 25, 2015


They have more or less, whether that was their intention for the new iPad pro or not.

Except that it runs iOS, their locked-down appliance OS, rather than OSX, a much more open-ended system.

They have been gradually expanding iOS's capabilities into running more than simple siloed phone/tablet apps, though there is a long way to go before you can run, say, Xcode on it.

If an OSX-style system you can get a shell on and run more complicated things than apps on dies with the Intel platform, that will be a crying shame.
posted by acb at 6:21 PM on September 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hangouts is integrated with SMS on Android phones but it's not as seamless as iMessage.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:27 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Intel has been trying to get into the phone business for years with not much to show for it. I believe Android on x86 was spearheaded by Intel. However, phone manufacturers won't buy Intel chips because Intel will suck up all of the added value in the phone by integrating everything into Intel chips. That ends up leaving the phone makers with little added value and with profit margins as bad as PC motherboard makers.

The other downside of buying Intel is that if you aren't ordering chips by the million you are just a rounding error and will get commensurate customer support.
posted by monotreme at 9:18 PM on September 25, 2015


iMessage works over wifi, is there something similar for Android that does not require a mobile/cellular connection?

Yeah, Google Hangouts. It's the default Android messaging app as of Ice Cream Sandwich I believe. If you have a Gmail account, you can text them from the Gmail interface, or go to google.com/hangouts
posted by zixyer at 9:24 PM on September 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really want to run Windows 10 on my Samsung Galaxy phone.... Soon....
posted by alasdair at 12:10 AM on September 26, 2015


I really want to run Windows 10 on my Samsung Galaxy phone.... Soon....
I bought a Windows Phone (Lumia 640). WP8 was... awful. It felt like Android did in 2010 - buggy, really basic featureset. The breaking point was when I realised that WP8 has no way to send an email with a PDF attachment. I installed the Windows 10 preview which was marginally better but incredibly buggy. It's still got all sorts of desktop-esque aspects to it that make using it as a phone tricky.

Ultimately I got a new battery for my Nexus 4. Going back to Android (on a 3 year old phone) was a breath of fresh air compared to the brand new Lumia.
posted by leo_r at 3:45 AM on September 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Asus Zenfone 2 is running Intel chip. The device is appearing to selling very well.
posted by Carius at 5:09 AM on September 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


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