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CyanogenMod: the History of an Android Hack 118

Posted by Soulskill
from the rolling-your-own dept.
An anonymous reader points out a Wired story about some of the efforts behind CyanogenMod, a popular piece of Android modification software. Quoting: "CyanogenMod expanded into a team of 35 different 'device maintainers,' who manage the code for the 32 different devices that the project supports. Like Google, the team publishes its code to an online repository and accepts online submissions for changes to the code from other developers. Seven core members decide which of the submitted changes make it into the next release of CyanogenMod, and which don’t. ... Ultimately, CyanogenMod aspires to be more than just a software mod. 'I think one of our biggest dreams is to see a phone ship with Cyanogen on it,' says Soyars. But pairing the software with a phone is no easy task. First, CyanogenMod would have to pass the tests required by Google’s certification program in order to bundle Google’s proprietary apps — Gmail, Calendar, etc. — on the phone."
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CyanogenMod: the History of an Android Hack

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  • by APE992 (676540) on Saturday May 21, 2011 @07:27PM (#36205050) Journal
    I've been using CM7 on my Samsung Captivate for roughly two months now and the change between it and the ROM Samsung/AT&T make available is astounding: A) GPS actually works. On my stock eclair ROM it'd take upwards of a few minutes to get a lock if ever. B) Stock eclair/froyo would give you 3G at best. The Captivate is capable of HSDPA which CM7 offers (but to be fair all you'd really need to do is flash a compatible radio firmware to enable this on stock ROMs). C) Instead of randomly shutting itself off during the day and night, CM7 keeps on ticking 24/7 unless something catastrophic happens. D) I'm not 100% what filesystems each use, but the stock filesystem causes a well known very noticeable lag that CM7 doesn't have. E) Easily modified for Netflix usage. F) None of those god awful AT&T apps forced upon stock ROM users. I hated those with my Palm Treo 680 and I still hate them. To be fair most, if not all, custom roms are capable of the above. I have used others but typically found that my device would continue to randomly shut itself off, though this might be fixed by virtue of having gingerbread instead of eclair.
    • by Psyborgue (699890)
      The stock Filesystem on the captivate is probably RFS. That's what it is on my Vibrant (or was, until i flashed a rom that uses ext4). Glad to hear GPS works. It's horribly broken in all the Galaxy S Variants. Seems to be a driver issue. As soon as CM7 is stable i'll be switching (either that or the CM7 based MIUI).
      • by pegisys (1616521)
        I installed CM7 on my vibrant a few days ago and it's stable enough now to be a daily driver. I get better performance and better battery life. I haven't had a chance to really test the GPS yet though.
        • by Psyborgue (699890)
          How is 720p mkv playback? if that works, i'm sold. right now i'm running Axura (pretty much the latest before it died). Very stable and fast rom. Gps is a bit broken, tho. Does GPS work? Becuase I use that a lot.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        MIUI is a Chinese ROM that is NOT opensource. Be wary of using it.

      • CM7 has been stable for quite a while now. Currently on 7.0.2 final, IIRC...

  • by Superken7 (893292) on Saturday May 21, 2011 @07:30PM (#36205064) Journal

    Congrats to the whole CyanogenMod team. Even if the numbers show that CM users are the minority, I think its a pretty damn good project. I love my CyanogenMod enabled phone :)

    I am happy to be able to get a phone that is unlockable by design, and put an alternate mod on it that provides me with features that a stock OS doesn't. Thanks CM team! :)

  • by AbRASiON (589899) * on Saturday May 21, 2011 @07:39PM (#36205110) Journal

    The calendar is weak, I want more view options, how many days ahead can I see, setting the start and end time of the day so I can see 8:00am till say 9:00pm in a single window snapshot. Things like that.

    I've taken to installing one called "Business Calendar Free" but it's not quite right either.
    Does google ever update it's apps or do they just assume users will swap to third party applications so they only do a basic one?

    P.S I was going to link to the Android marketplace to show the calendar app I'm using but oddly enough it's not in the list of devices on my handset, no idea why - this kind of inconsistency is frustrating with Android, I think I should just switch back to Appbrain and forget Market.Android at this point

    • The Cal
    • Use the online market link [android.com] and you can see all applications, and whether they're compatible with your phone or not (if you log in with your Google ID).

    • by gearloos (816828)
      For Cal just get Jorte and use the widget. Its compatible with Cyan 7.x . actually most everything is compatible. Only issue I ever had was recently running Netflix on my Nexus S when Koush typo'd the /system/build.prop and named the phone a Samsung instead of a samsung. I just edited and continued on.. no big deal.http://mobile.slashdot.org/story/11/05/21/2137240/CyanogenMod-the-History-of-an-Android-Hack#
    • Well actually (unlike Market and Gmail for example) the Contacts and Calender apps are part of the Android Open Source Project, with Google just providing 'Sync Adapters' to sync their data as part of their proprietary 'gapps' package. So this means two things, firstly that these apps will get updates with platform releases (not via Market) - just by the screenshots, they both looker 'nicer' in Honeycomb - and secondly that (as is already done with Contacts in CM) it should presumably be possible for custom
  • by obarthelemy (160321) on Saturday May 21, 2011 @07:43PM (#36205136)

    I have installed CM7 twice:

    - Once on my brother's X10 mini pro. The thing was barely usable before, extremely slow, bloated crapware... With CM7 it feels like a new phone, much snappier, and with a much better interface and software portfolio.

    - On my own WinMob 6.5 HTC HD2. More to check if it actually worked than to really use it, I am quite happy with WinMob since I don't do anything fancy with my phone. Well, strike that. I now run android all the time. The interface is much better, so are the apps... I only miss winmob's RDP server.

    So kudos, and thanks, to the CM team. Phone manufacturers should pay you, or at least help you. You breathe new life into old and clunky phones.

    One remark though, being totally new to modding phones, I struggled a bit with the instructions on the XDA-Dev site. The hackers there assume some knowledge of modding (how to boot in "Flash Update" mode, installing the root...). Following 10 lines of instructions for the X10 install took me about 3hrs, lots of cold sweat... but worked on the first try.

    • by lanner (107308)

      The phone handset manufactures lose money by extending and enhancing the capabilities of old phones. So, you won't be seeing much help out of them. However, if enough people care about modding their phone and make their purchasing decisions on that fact, the manufactures might let you have an open bootloader. But, as the userbase gets larger, the likelihood of that gets smaller.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by erroneus (253617)

        It's true. The industry is being suppressed by the carriers. It reminds me of the old days when you couldn't own your own phone at home and had little to no choice of which phones you could select for rent from Bell.

        Even now, you are highly controlled as to what you can do and what you can use. It hasn't gotten "bad enough" just yet for the government to step in and do anything about it... but take heart -- things are getting worse in the U.S. so we can look forward to much worse things as TMobile will b

    • by cpicon92 (1157705)

      What CM for the mini pro did you use? I've been thinking about doing it to mine.

    • Agreed. I'm running CM7 on an original HTC G1, which as modern smartphones go is a dinosaur, but runs just fine with CM on it. One of the major selling points for me when I upgraded was to find a phone that's compatible with CyanogenMod so I wouldn't lose those features.

      Going back to Android 2.1 or 2.2 on a brand new phone when you've been using 2.3 via CM on a G1 is just silly.

      • by trapnest (1608791)
        The G2 (Desire Z) is an amazing device. CM 7.0.2 running nicely here. One thing I really miss about my G1 is the keyboard...
        • The G2 (Desire Z) is an amazing device. CM 7.0.2 running nicely here. One thing I really miss about my G1 is the keyboard...

          The G2 has a keyboard. Its true the G2 keyboard is a 4 row instead of a 5 row like the G1, but its usable. However, ever since I replaced my G1 with a G2, I typically used the swype virtual keyboard instead of the physical one. Its possible to extract swype from the original ROM if you backed it up before flashing CM. That is what I did. Swype + CM 7.0.3 is nice.

          • by Rennt (582550)

            You are better off just getting swype from the developer - the beta has open for ages now, and the "stock" version that came with your device doesn't get any updates.

    • I agree. I put Cyanogenmod on my HTC Aria, and things just work better now. One thing I like is being able to turn off individual radios instead of the all or nothing of just plain airplane mode.

    • by caseih (160668)

      Phone manufacturers should pay you, or at least help you. You breathe new life into old and clunky phones.

      That's exactly why phone companies won't ever do it, and aren't at all interested in CyanogenMod. They aren't interested in improving existing phones; they are in the business of pushing new expensive phones. Or at least new contracts. Want to upgrade your year old clunker phone? No problem. Just sign here to start a new two year contract and you're good to go!

  • I bought a Nook Color for the sole reason of installing CyanogenMod on it and using it as a general purpose touch pad. Works great.

    Now if I could just get a variation of the koi live wallpaper that has piranha that attack your finger whenever you touch the screen.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I took the plunge and bought my nexus one "without contract" a few months after it was released. Since then I unlocked and and have run different versions of cyanogen mod. Doing so has increased it's functionality (For instance FM radio did not work on the stock roms but does with the radio updates used in Cyanogen mod)

    Although it was only a small amount I donated what I could to support them. May the folks involved in the project get all the credit they deserve. Thanks for the good work guys!

    • by Nichotin (794369)
      Thanks for reminding me to donate. They truly deserve some extra beer money for their effort.
  • Motorola's long awaited Froyo update for the original Milestone was bad. Really bad! That convinced me to try CynogenMod 7, and it's just great: phone is faster, batteries last more, everything seems to be working just fine.
    • Wasn't Gingerbread out by the time most countries got the Milestone Froyo update?
      • by MarcoPon (689115)
        Yes, that too. But a well-made Froyo would have probably been enough, for me at last. But Motorola released something really sub par, in addition to being late. I have no idea if they plan to release a fixed version, but considered they biblical times, I think it's irrelevant.
  • But pairing the software with a phone is no easy task. First, CyanogenMod would have to pass the tests required by Google’s certification program in order to bundle Google’s proprietary apps — Gmail, Calendar, etc. — on the phone.

    Non sequeter. Having Google's proprietary apps is not necessary in order to "pair the software with a phone". Sure, it helps, but it's not necessary.

    • But pairing the software with a phone is no easy task. First, CyanogenMod would have to pass the tests required by Google’s certification program in order to bundle Google’s proprietary apps — Gmail, Calendar, etc. — on the phone.

      Non sequeter. Having Google's proprietary apps is not necessary in order to "pair the software with a phone". Sure, it helps, but it's not necessary.

      That's not a non sequitur. Banana pancake.

    • AFAIK, one of the proprietary apps is Android Market. Without that, you don't get buyers. Without buyers, no profit, no phone.

    • by kwalker (1383)

      It's not just Gmail, Calendar, etc. It's the Market app itself also. That's the lynch pin. If you can't get the Market app on the phone, how are you going to get easy (customer-friendly) access to the rest of the things (Google-owned or otherwise) that you want? Sure geeks can side-load apps into Android devices, but non-geeks won't in any real numbers.

  • I've been using Cyanogenmod on my phones since JesusFreke decided to quit maintaining for the G1..and it's really great to see how the community has grown. There are more phones and devs maintaining them than I ever would have imagined back then.
    I hope SOMEONE eventually has the balls to ship a phone with Cyanogen on board..at least a developer phone or something..I think it'd be good for the community and good for the phone companies to see what can be done. It's OUR hardware once it's bough

  • ... You never know when they might randomly stop supporting your device. :( I'm looking sadly at my Mytouch 3g (which can TOTALLY handle gingerbread, btw).

    • It's not that the team stops supporting the device. It's that there's no device owners who want to step up and maintain the device. Look at the Hero GSM; its maintainer went and got a new phone, and stopped caring about the Hero, so it was dropped. Dream/Sapphire was dropped because it was too much of a headache to maintain, and the rest of the team would rather focus their time on newer devices like the G2x. Developers are free to come forward and be maintainers. But those who port CM7 to unsupported devic
    • by errandum (2014454)

      Because you payed them a lot for all the free versions you got (that, I'm sure, are better than your stock rom).

      Also, that is a very weak phone. It might "handle" gingerbread, but not well enough (that's what I'm told, i believe that's the same as the htc magic).

      2.2 is miles away from the rom that came with that phone, you should thank them for what they done instead of complaining.

    • by Rennt (582550)

      A first-gen android device IS underpowered for gingerbread. Even CM6 was on the heavy side on my G1 (same hardware as your myTouch). You had to be careful what apps you installed so you didn't kill performance. That's not a satisfactory experience.

      But the shelf life of these devices has nothing to do with the actual capability of the hardware. From the manufacturer the problem is planned obsolescence. From a community project, support runs out when there are no volunteer developers left who think its worth

    • by Monoman (8745)

      ... You never know when they might randomly stop supporting your device...

      How is this different than your carrier and handset manufacturer?

      They can't support things forever but they should at least tell you up front what they are going to support. For example:

      * Up front they should state OS upgrades only for x amount of time (I think a year or none is fine).
      * Security and bugfixes for as long as they sell their phones plus the length of their longest contract.

      Their business model is all about limited lifetime hardware and longer contracts.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    On most (all?) phones, installing this or other mods requires using an exploit to get around the phone's security. It's a sad, dismaying situation to me. With PCs, you get to own it after you buy it, by design. You can install whatever OS and software you want, and it obeys you. With phones, even if you pay full price and forgo a plan, they're mostly locked down hardware. Newer ones like the HTC Sensation have cryptographically signed bootloaders and haven't even been broken yet.

    The whole situation is

    • by Briareos (21163) *

      Surprising as it may be, Sony Ericsson even put up a site with step-by-step instructions to unlock the boot loader on their new Xperia phones (well, and having you check off a box that you acknowledge that this might void your warranty) and also put up instructions how to build a kernel and flash it to your phone:

      http://blogs.sonyericsson.com/wp/2011/05/06/how-to-build-a-linux-kernel/ [sonyericsson.com]

      np: Shackleton - Deadman (Fabric 55)

      • by makomk (752139)

        Though remember that this is Sony we're talking about, and the way they've got it set up means they can withdraw the ability to unlock the bootloader from anyone that hasn't already done so at any time they feel like it. (You have to request a bootloader unlock code tied to your phone serial number from their website.) Wouldn't be terribly surprised if they did either.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      So buy a nexus. I have an OG Droid, no exploit needed to flash a new rom.

  • Such good stuff. I don't think I could ever go back to stock android.
    CM 7 on HTC Passion (Google Nexus One) /w T-mobile's GAN calling ported from MyTouch 4G
  • I use CyanogenMod based roms on my Android devices, and the main reason is the power control widget. It has many more features than the stock one. When you add it you can choose to have toggle buttons for stuff like 2g/2g+3g/3g, flashlight, orientation, wireless hotspot and many more, including the ones from stock like bluetooth, wifi and data traffic.

    First thing I did when I got my Desire HD was to get rid of the stock sense rom and install CleanDHD (Cyanogen 7-based).
    • I too have a Desire HD too and was considering installing a custom ROM for the heck of it. But I don't see what advantages it offers beyond the slightly-nebulous "more control", although your power widget example was quite useful. Since you seem to be a fan, is there any chance you could expound upon cyanogenmod's virtues? :)

      • by Nichotin (794369)
        http://www.cyanogenmod.com/about/features [cyanogenmod.com] and http://www.cyanogenmod.com/about [cyanogenmod.com]

        A lot of stuff is listed there. I think Cyanogen provides a pure Android experience, plus some handy extras that I find pure AOSP builds lacking. If you'd rather have Sense, you can find all sorts of supertweaked Sense ROMs on XDA. But heck, go ahead and try CyanogenMod and see if you like it. After rooting, taking full backup of your phone is trivial, so experimenting after that is not that much hassle.
  • by FireBreath (724099) on Sunday May 22, 2011 @12:24AM (#36206322) Homepage

    Yes Cyanogen is great, I run it on an Android phone or two and love it to bits. But that's not really the point...

    The question here was about shipping a phone with CM preloaded, and that comes down to a number of business concerns.
    In order to get the real penetration that this would need to get off the ground, CM would obviously need to pair up with a hardware OEM in order to get a handset crafted (or repurposed) and then they would also need carrier backing in order to get the sales penetration needed for a sustainable plan.

    The major issue carriers will have with CM is the fact that the OS is rooted out-of-the-box and that carriers have a multitude of requirements imposed on handsets they'll slap their brand name on. Carriers tend to have business needs that require them to preload certain content on the device, rooting a device allows the user to quickly remove this content (something a carrier might have to swallow from the more knowledgeable users, but not something they would be willing to allow their userbase to perform at the flip of a switch). Rooting also opens a whole mess of security questions, which a carrier would tend to want to stay away from:

    User: "My personal info was stolen from my phone!"
    Carrier tech support: "Well your phone is rooted and you downloaded some nasty apps that captured your private data"
    User: "But you sold me a rooted phone."

    You also face issues like some of those mentioned in the comments here to the tune of "CM7 makes it easy to use Netflix". This is one example of many, but Netflix is currently only supported on select few handsets. I can imagine the lawsuits if a carrier were to sell and sponsor a device that "allows user to easily bypass device restrictions" put in place by app vendors. I'm not saying I don't have fun tinkering and hacking around apps in my spare time... but opening those doors to the masses and being liable for such a product is a whole different story.

    Now the carrier is faced with having to support and guarantee a product that in the hands of an ignorant or unknowing customer can go horribly wrong.

    Sony Ericsson has tackled this issue lately, allowing them to certify phones with carriers and have a secure out-of-the-box experience, but allow the customer to void his/her warranty by punching in their handset's IMEI on a website, obtaining an unlock code for the bootloader allowing full modification of the device. Forcing the customer through a lengthy agreement that renders all warranties null and void makes the carriers and OEMs safe from fallout if the user screws up their device from that point forward.

    Cyanogen mod has quite a ways to go yet until they're ready to play in a commercial (and corporate) world where legal implication and stupid users require everything to be dumbed down and secured for consumption by everyone from preteens to seniors. I look forward to the day when I can sign up for my wireless plan and walk away with a Cyanogen handset, however I fear that if they look to commercialize the product they will end up taking away all that is great about CM in the first place.

    In my opinion CM will thrive best staying where it is, being the best after-market mod/distro for Android devices.

    • by oiron (697563)

      Unlocked phones sold without carrier interference.

      Like the rest of the free world does it!

    • User: "My personal info was stolen from my phone!"
      Carrier tech support: "Well your phone is rooted and you downloaded some nasty apps that captured your private data"
      User: "But you sold me a rooted phone."

      This is the same exact conversation without the"rooted" part you'll get anyways. The whole Vendor Lockin is bogus to start with. How about the conversation I had ...

      User: "I don't want that app, how can I remove it because it is killing battery life"
      Carrier tech support: "Why would you want to remove it"
      Us

    • by Rexdude (747457)

      The problem is the expectation (in the US) that a problem with the phone has to be fixed by the carrier, again because the carrier sold them the phone.
      How does it make sense to maintain a whole support team for resolving handset issues is beyond me. To get back to car analogies, the highway department is not who you buy your cars from, hence you go to the car dealer/repair shop and not to them when the engine doesn't start.

  • I consider it odd that carriers can hobble Android at will and pass the Google cert program, but a community of dedicated programmers devoted to restoring functionality to Android users would have problems passing this so-called certification process.

    Read between the lines: You must be a mobile carrier with $$$ to pass a certification process -- this permits you to have carte blanche to lock down your phones and remove features as you see fit. A real certification process would ensure the Market app would be able to run on each phone or tablet running Android, prevent the device from being loaded with crapware by the carriers, and allow the user to have "root" privileges.

    Until a user can do what he or she wants on their mobile, this certification is a bad joke by Google and mobile carriers at the expense of their users and customer base.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The problem with giving the users root access is the same as giving users admin access on a windows machine.

      This is a phone, first and foremost. If it cannot make calls or function properly people will scream b*tch and yell at the phone companies. Letting the average users (idiots) have root access to their phone would inevitably lead to them screwing it up leading to a massive increase in support calls and complaints about phone manufacturers. Having a "you will void your warranty if you root" will keep

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        Cyanogenmod doesn't have quality control - at least not in the traditional sense. If a changelog shows any changes between the last build and the release candidate, then you essentially don't have quality control. Now, this is par for the course for enthusiast-backed distros, and cyanogen quality is better than most.

        What the Cyanogenmod team calls stable is really beta at best on most controlled projects - it means that maybe some devs have used the build for a day or whatever. When updates don't boot or

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          Yet, the quality of CM7 is leaps and bounds beyond that of the 2.2 rom on the droid.

          Your suggest QA system is one designed for ass covering, not results. This is because CYA is far more important in the corporate world than have the best outcome possible.

          • by i (8254)
            I have been programming since 1979. You are wrong.
          • by Rich0 (548339)

            You need to look at it from a different perspective.

            A recent CM7 deployment wouldn't boot on some phones. A dot release was quickly issued to fix the problem. Probably quite a few people got burned. However, what kinds of users got burned? They were early adopters who managed to root their phone and who generally know how to boot into recovery/etc. So, getting their phones back up and running wasn't that big a deal - just an inconvenience.

            Suppose that same update went out OTA to EVERYBODY with that mo

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Mod this up. Google is the no evil company? Give me a break. The way they handle Android is really a bad joke. It could have been a wonderfully open platform, but instead it causes nightmare to users all over the world. I've seen so many new phones that are barely usable it's not funny.

      • by thegarbz (1787294)

        And that is Google's problem? Correct me if I am wrong but the only phone Google actually release has stock Android and provides a wonderfully vanilla user experience.

        Now the second half of the argument is that Android is open source allowing users to do what they want such as release CyanogenMod.

        Just like any other open source project why is the parent company evil if others use the code, modify the code, and then release it in a way that makes the user experience worse? Is Linus Torvalds evil because I re

  • I love Cyanogen, which is why I hope they never pair it with a phone. Call me paranoid, but I'm convinced a lot of effort which now goes into supporting a wide range of phones will then be diverted into their "own" phone. A cool phone potentially, but only potentially, and at the cost of choice.

    Don't get me wrong, they have every right to do that. Hell, they could even become a closed brand and make loads of money if the wanted, but I hope they don't.

  • I thought that a user-contributed ROM couldn't be as reliable as the stock one.

    Then I got frustrated for the bugs, the limitations and the obsolescence of the single 1.6 ROM that HTC had granted to my phone and I decided to void the warranty and install CM.

    It turned out that CM is much more stable than the stock ROM: just to make a single example of its quality, the original ROM had a delay of a couple of seconds (!) between pushing a button on the headset remote and the phone executing the matching act

  • When they get a working build for the Fascinate, I'll happily toss some cash their way.

  • Mobile TV Elite Bonus, a review of this product that Internet sales leads. http://www.mobiletvelitebonus.org/ [mobiletvelitebonus.org]
  • I have run many versions of CM (even contributed to CM early on) and many versions of stock. My conclusion: CM breaks a heck of a lot more than it fixes -- and the community is more likely than not just going to get mad at you or ignore you if you try to report bugs. Extremely unfriendly, unhelpful community. Since about Eclair, CM has *not* been better than stock.
    • Also, the average user will pretty much not know or notice *any* improvement by running CM, if they already have Gingerbread.

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.

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