Cyanogen makes it easier to install alternate Android OS

Available on Google Play, CyanogenMod Installer app simplifies removal of your phone's version of Android, but still far from one-click process

Android users have long been frustrated with the way handset makers lag in upgrading Android. Some go so far as to replace the phone maker's version of Android with CyanogenMod, a custom build that's designed for flexibility and tweakability. However, getting the CyanogenMod ROM loaded onto a smartphone has never been easy.

That's about to change. The company behind CyanogenMod (named Cyanogen, although it's contemplating a name change) has launched a tool, available in the Google Play store, that helps automate the install process for its ROM.

Dubbed CyanogenMod Installer, the app actually consists of two components. One is the Android app, the other a PC-side app that can be downloaded from Cyanogen. The user connects the phone to the PC, and the PC-side app performs most of the heavy lifting required to install the CyanogenMod ROM on the phone.

It's a good way to automate a process that was originally quite ornery and discouraged many people -- even many technically savvy ones -- from bothering with CyanogenMod. The loader app doesn't require you to root your phone or unlock your bootloader first, both of which were obstacles to getting CyanogenMod loaded in the past. Another convenient feature of the installer is that it lets you make a full backup of your phone and restore to that in the event you want to revert to the stock ROM.

The most glaring limitation of the installer? Right now it works with a smaller subset of phones. Since each phone -- and often every version of each phone from different carriers -- requires a different build of CyanogenMod, the installer also has to be crafted to support all those individual sub-builds. Also, the installer is Windows-only; there are no Mac or Linux versions yet.

Finally, if you're looking to CyanogenMod as a way to install KitKat ahead of everyone else, you can't -- at least, not yet. Cyanogen is working on a version of KitKat, but wants to do it right and is focusing for the time being on polishing its Android 4.3-based releases.

In time, all this tinkering might not be needed. Cyanogen is formulating plans to work directly with phone makers as a way to get its edition of Android into many more hands. The only thing easier than using an app to install CyanogenMod would be to buy a phone with it already preloaded.

CyanogenMod isn't the only alternative Android ROM out there; the Miui project released version 3.11.8 of its ROM on Nov. 8. But Cyanogen has the mind share -- and, most important, the ease of use -- that projects like this often lack.

This story, "Cyanogen makes it easier to install alternate Android OS," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.