Chrome OS alternative promises Android on a PC

Remix OS -- the brainchild of three ex-Google engineers -- promises a Windows-like experience on minimal hardware

Chrome OS alternative promises Android on a PC
Credit: Rob Bulmahn via Flickr

Remix OS for PC, an edition of Android built for Intel x86 processors powering desktop hardware, was made available today for public alpha testing.

Remix OS, which allows older or less powerful PCs to run more efficiently via Android, is an alternative to Chrome OS, another Google creation for low-resource machines. There's some irony that Remix OS is the brainchild of three ex-Google engineers -- Jeremy Chau, Ben Luk, and David Ko -- who under the corporate name Jide Technology produced Remix OS to provide Android's ecosystem and technology in a package reminiscent of a desktop operating system.

Remix OS for PC makes Remix OS available in a format that can be consumed by an Intel-based PC (or Intel-based Mac). The OS can be booted from a flash drive, with user session data saved to the drive if needed. Another boot mode keeps the user session in memory only and discards it at shutdown, similar to the privacy-centric Tails operating system. Updates to the system will be provided for free and are downloaded and applied directly to the flash drive it's stored on. (Installing to a system's hard drive isn't possible yet.)

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Remix OS's first public alpha release respins Android in a way that's friendly to desktop users. It provides an alternative to Chrome OS, both on low-end systems and in environments where user data shouldn't persist.

Chrome OS was originally created by Google to use HTML5 (via the Chrome browser) and a minimal Linux environment to run Internet-connected apps. Android provides everything Chrome OS does and more, albeit at the cost of a larger system footprint. But the baseline for what constitutes minimal hardware has risen and now comfortably accommodates even not-so-minimal versions of Android.

Remix OS, like Chrome OS, touts the advantage of being a minimal environment that doesn't need oversight. The most recent editions of Android have more robust management functions, but Remix OS's solution is more basic, keeping a user's environment on its own flash drive or running in a throwaway environment where nothing is retained between sessions.

It's unlikely that Remix OS, or Android in general, will be a full-blown substitute for Windows in anything but the most lightweight usage scenarios. Web browsers aside, most Android applications aren't geared toward the kind of productivity that takes place in a desktop environment. There's also little support for anything but the most basic hardware, and multifunction office gear won't likely work at all.

Jide is bundling Remix OS with its own hardware devices, but the ones announced so far are aimed at users with modest needs. The Remix Mini is an all-in-one PC reminiscent of the Apple iMac, and the Remix Ultratablet is patterned after Microsoft's Surface.