CyanogenMod: the first Android fork worth getting excited (and maybe a little worried) about

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Those of you who are familiar with me know that I love CyanogenMod. Even with a house full of Nexus devices which came with the “stock” version of Android (the way Google intended it), the majority of my devices run CyanogenMod.

CyanogenMod is a custom ROM started by Steve Kondik, “Cyanogen” himself, back in 2009. It originated as an extension of the JF ROM that I ran on my first Android, the T-Mobile G1. Steve was a self-described “noob” at the time, and afraid that he’d be “laughed off the (XDA) forums”. Fortunately for him (and for the community), his work was embraced. Before long he committed his work to Github, a codebase repository and sharing service. From there other developers could “check out” his code and make derivative ROMs – or they could submit their own code to the project, making the original codebase greater than the sum of its parts.

The ROM grew in features and functionality and the userbase exploded. There are now over eight million users of the custom ROM who have elected to share data with Cyanogen. Some estimates place the real number of users at two to three times that amount. To put it in perspective, by these numbers, the amount of devices running CyanogenMod today could be greater than those running Windows Phone.

A fork in the road

I'd fork thatAt the end of 2012 Steve and some others were working hard to turn CyanogenMod into a corporation. Doing so would enable the group of core contributors to become tighter knit, and brought the project a level of professionalism that it hadn’t had before – at least not in the eyes of some banks and investors.

Today the CyanogenMod team announced that they’ve raised US$7 Million to build a better version of Android. Yes, folks, things just got real.

Is this news awesome? Is it awful? Will this help destroy the old Android model? Or help it grow in a way it’s never seen before?

In a word: yes. All of those, to varying degrees.

Businesses aren’t charities

money grows
Unless they are actually a charity, businesses exist to make profit. That’s just the way capitalism works. That has a lot of people worried about the future of CyanogenMod ROM. When you stop to consider the changes to the CyanogenMod licensure not long ago, I can’t blame people for being suspicious.

Remember when George Lucas, the creator of the insanely popular Star Wars franchise, said that he was fed up with what Hollywood had become and wanted his movies to be his, and his alone? And that was the only way to preserve the story from being “compromised” by big corporations? (If someone has the exact quote, post that in the comments, will ya?)

Do you remember what happened years and years later? George Lucas founded Industrial Light and Magic, established Skywalker Ranch, and created the THX standard. In short, to fully realize his vision of Star Wars he had to become the very thing that he was rebelling against — a corporation.

The real question

CyanogenMod now finds itself similarly situated. Venture capitalists don’t go around handing out money, they expect some kind of a return on their investment — and not the kind that you or I might expect from the money in our Money Market account or IRA. These guys want big paybacks.

How much is “big”? I’m sure it’s somewhere north of 200- to 300-percent. So ask yourself, how is a company that doesn’t sell anything going to pay back seven million dollars plus interest?

That’s the real question — to which I don’t have a good answer.

The other questions

Is this awesome?

Yes. CyanogenMod just got the legitimacy to break out of a niche “thing” into something with a real driving force behind it.

Is this awful?

Possibly. The product may be something that is purchased rather than given away freely at some point in the future. Code contributors may expect payment for their submissions, lack of which could paralyze the company going forward. There are countless possible scenarios in the “awful” bucket.

Will this help destroy the old Android model?

Yes and no. The old model had OEMs taking the code, baking it into their own flavor, and distributing it with their hardware. The new model may very well see an environment where you can chose your own ROM: OEM stock (TouchWiz, Sense UI, etc.), Google Play edition, or CyanogenMod (or other custom ROMs). We’ve talked about this in “what-if” scenarios in the past, but we never really took that theory seriously. Now, however, it’s a possibility.

Will average users embrace CyanogenMod at some point in the future?

cyanogenmod

Absolutely yes! The main detractor to CyanogenMod (and all custom ROMs) currently is the level of technical expertise that one must have in order to unlock, root, and flash said ROM. You and I can probably do it in our sleep, and I’ve lost count of how many times or devices I’ve OEM UNLOCKed. One of the new things they’re working on is a “one click” installer that will take care of everything for you. Plug your phone into your computer, run the app, click the button, wait for a moment, and you’re done! Welcome to CyanogenMod!

Will it help Android grow in ways that we’ve never seen before?

Yes, oh yes! Hold on to your butts, ladies and gentlemen, this is going to get really exciting!

From here on out, the CyanogenMod goals are straightforward:

  • Organize, lead, and support their community
  • Create amazing user experiences centered around how we (the end users) work
  • Create security solutions that really work
  • Stay committed to building the features users need
  • No junk
  • Constant updates
  • Available on everything, to everyone

What about you?

I’m on-board with the whole “corporate CyanogenMod” thing. I think it’s a step in the right direction toward legitimacy and wide-spread adoption. I’m also worried (very worried) that the project will turn from what it is now into a “how can we make a lot of money with this” mutation. I hope that doesn’t happen.

What about you?  What are your hopes and concerns with this news? Did you see it coming? Do you think it’s the path to the Dark Side? We want to know! Head down to the comments and voice your opinions!

Source: CyanogenMod Blog

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy".By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video.Read more about Joe Levi here.