I originally intended to compare OSs from most closed to most open, so the next OS after Windows would have been RemixOS. However, it is built upon Android-x86; so it would be out of context to review it without first reviewing Android-x86 itself. Incidentally, all of the OSs I will be comparing other than Windows are built upon the Linux kernel.
Android is an operating system made by Google, originally intended for smartphones, but running also on tablets since Honeycomb. Android uses the Linux kernel and a Java virtual machine for running apps. Thatcomes in handy for Android-x86, which is a port of Android (which is made with the ARM architecture, common on mobile hardware, in mind) to the x86 architecture. Android-x86 has both i686 and amd64 builds and, like a regular Linux distribution, provides an UEFI-ready LiveCD from which it is possible to try as well as install the OS to internal drive.
Unfortuantely, lately the Android-x86 project has been stagnating somewhat; the latest release as of right now is that of Android 6.0 “Marshmallow”, whereas the latest official version is Android 7.0 “Nougat”. The lead developer of the project has left it for RemixOS. While there has been some activity since, it is seemingly rather slow. Android-x86 6.0 also comes wth a rather outdated Linux kernel 4.4.
Trying it out
Since a LiveCD is provided, the first thing to do is to try it out. Putting it on a USB drive is easy with openSUSE Imagewriter, and it boots right into a GRUB prompt. Selecting to start it, the Linux kernel loads, and Android starts loading. And loading. And loading. And never finishes. After a hard restart and another attempt, Android loads to show the desktop and the back button, with a whole lot of “app X stopped working” messages that disappear after a moment. It is completely unusable (although the touchscreen works and I can press that back button).
Another hard reboot later, I choose debug mode. It boots into a commandline shell, telling me to exit to continue booting Android. I so do, to get another shell that says the same thing. I exit that shell as well, and… Android boots! Magic. There must be a heisenbug somewhere.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t last, either. About five minutes in, the UI softlocks, necessitating another hard reboot.
The LiveCD didn’t work that well, but maybe when installed it will be better? Let’s find out!
In the previous part I mentioned how the tablet is originally partitioned, and that I reformatted everything so I could install everything cleanly. I did that in GPartEd LiveCD. I removed all partitions except EFI system, gave Windows a 20 GiB partition, and made 8 GiB partitions for all of the other OSs I plan to install. I formatted those in the preferred filesystems of the OSs: ext4 for Gentoo, Btrfs for SailfishOS, and, since I read that F2FS is supported in Android-x86, I formatted its and RemixOS partitions as such.
Of note here is that GPartEd LiveCD is not very touch-friendly. It asks three questions in the console at boot (all of which have reasonable defaults, so why ask?), and it uses 96 DPI when booted into a GUI (Fluxbox). Which results in the close-maximise-minimise buttons being around 3x6 pixels in size! And not being able to right-click in GPartEd is a bit annoying as well, though all the options are also in the app menu.
Once that is done, I booted into installer mode from the Android-x86 LiveCD. It is a text-mode installer; not something you’d expect from Android, but at least it’s rock-solid, unlike Android. Thank goodness I have a detachable keyboard, though. The installer asks for a partition to install to. When given the intended one, it claims it cannot write into such a filesystem! Apparently the F2FS support is only runtime, not in the installer. So I had to have the installer reformat the partition as ext4 as well. Then the tablet reboots.
I haven’t investigated it in depth yet, but the UEFI seems to prefer booting Windows, and I don’t even see a GRUB entry in its menu. Thankfully, it has a nice interface to select an
.EFI file to boot, so GRUB boots fine though that. It’s just a bit of a hassle to need to press F9 each time and navigate to the right directory.
Unfortunately, when installed, there is no difference from the LiveCD version. It still locks up on boot each time. I originally thought that it’s due to the old kernel, but then RemixOS proved that hypothesis wrong; but that’s for the next part.
I might retest Android-x86 once 7.0 comes out, or perhaps I might try Android IA, which is maintained by Intel rather than the community.
Could not be tested properly due to it locking up on or shortly after boot.