A Real, Android-Based Alternative to Windows: Remix OS 2.0

Looking for a free installable Windows alternative? Jide Technology’s Remix OS 2.0 produces an Android-based operating system for desktops and laptops – it’s not yet ready for prime time, but the preview is terrifying – for Microsoft.

Many of today’s Linux-based systems, like Android and Ubuntu, suffer from limitations. Ubuntu’s software library isn’t comparable to Windows and Android can’t install onto a computer. Remix creates a bridge between the two systems by combining Android’s titanic app library with a desktop Graphical User Interface. Another major coup: Remix OS runs lightning fast on low-end hardware, making it suitable for netbooks (what’s a netbook?) and Chromebooks (what’s a Chromebook?).

remix os

After weeks of testing, my conclusion: Remix OS is a remarkable operating system. The combination of Android with a Windows-like GUI creates a surprisingly comfortable, user-friendly operating system. Although still in an early preview, the new OS shows great promise for home PC builders and will soon include a full installer, similar to Ubuntu.

A Brief History of x86 vs ARM

In the world of computing, there are two dominant processor architectures: ARM and x86. The ARM architecture in laymen’s terms powers most mobile devices, including tablets and smartphones. The x86 architecture dominates the computing world, such as Windows and Macintosh. Software designed for ARM does not run on Windows and vice-versa. Attempts were made to bridge the two architectures over the years, but most efforts ran into legal problems or were shuttered after running into difficulties, such as AMD’s ambidextrous CPU design.

Remix OS owes much of its existence to the Android x86 project, which customizes Android to run on the x86 architecture. Remix OS goes a step further and borrows Graphical User Interface (GUI) elements from desktops — such as the taskbar — and fuses it with an x86 compatible version of Android. Unlike the maligned Console OS, Remix OS complies with both GPL and Apache open source licenses. In the words of the Remix OS team (as transmitted by Owen Adkins, an account executive at Jide’s public relations firm, Dynamo):

We took measures to quickly rectify the situation as soon as we were made aware of it. In terms of complying with GPL and Apache licenses, we have now published all Remix OS for PC code that is a modification of open-source elements.

Readers can find a full comment on XDA.

Configuring Remix OS 2.0

To get started, download Remix OS. There are three different versions of the OS:

  • 32-bit Remix OS 2.0 for non-EFI systems (requires torrent client);
  • 64-bit Remix OS 2.0 for EFI  and non-EFI systems (check the box stating you are a developer);

remix os check box

Most Extensible Firmware Interface (what is an EFI?) systems can switch off EFI in the BIOS/UEFI settings, so the non-EFI images will work on almost any system. If you own an older model of computer or a netbook equipped with an Atom N-series processor, the best option is to choose the 32-bit version (the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit). If you’re installing within a virtual machine, avoid the EFI installation. You may want to use the 32-bit version.

Three Ways to Use Remix OS

There are three main methods of using Remix OS:

  • The first method is to burn a live image of Remix OS to a USB flash drive.
  • The second is to run Remix OS within a virtual machine (requires the non-EFI version)
  • The third method is to install it to a hard drive. However, this method is unofficial and can damage information residing on the drive. There are methods to dual-boot Remix OS, which I will briefly cover at the end of this article.

Remix OS only installs to a USB drive, although with some tinkering users can also install it to a hard drive. Similar to Ubuntu, Remix can run in one of two modes: Resident mode, which allows the user to save their personal data (similar to Persistence mode in Linux) and Guest mode. Guest mode runs a single instance of the OS and doesn’t retain user data.

Install to Flash Drive

This is the easiest and least error-prone method. You’ll need the following:

  • An 8GB or larger USB 3.0 drive. For Guest mode, a USB 2.0 drive works, as well.
  • A computer capable of running UNetbootin.

First download a compatible Remix OS image above and unzip the archive. Inside the archive is a Windows executable file — it’s a customized version of UNetbootin, which can create a bootable USB drive. The Linux version of UNetbootin works just as well.

Install Remix OS to Hard Drive

I do not recommend this option. It possesses the ability to destroy your personal data and can result in an unbootable operating system.

The dual boot option requires EasyBCD Creator or MiniTool Partition Wizard. The video also includes instructions on how to expand the size of Remix OS to well beyond 4GB in size. Here’s a video on dual-booting Remix along with (unfortunately) Windows:

Installing the Play Store on Remix OS 2.0

There are three really good app markets available for Remix: The Google Play Store, F-Droid, and the Amazon App Store. Of the three, I prefer the open-source F-Droid, but the limited number of applications may force most users onto Google’s Play Store. For the curious, Amazon loses against Google’s Play Store. For those wanting to install Google Play Store, here’s a quick tutorial:

Using Remix OS 2.0

After spending several weeks with Remix OS 2.0, my impression is overwhelmingly favorably. While at present it’s an unstable, and unfinished, alpha product, what Jide Technology offers can disrupt the low-end market of the PC industry, similar to what Chromebooks did in 2012.

Learning to use Remix won’t require much effort. Remix includes many modern GUI refinements such as resizable windows and split-screen abilities. It also partially solves technical problems associated with Intel’s chips on Android. On top of that, Remix possesses a much shallower hardware footprint than Windows. Altogether, Remix offers a vast software library alongside an almost plug-and-play user experience.

remix desktop

Split Screen Mode

Split-screen mode allows better utilization of large screens. For example, dragging any floating window or app to the left snaps it into the left pane.

split screen dual pane remix os

If you write research papers or use a lot of spreadsheets, split-screen mode offers a powerful productivity tool. It works just as well on Android as it does on Windows, with the exception that Android offers a larger software library than Windows.

Reduced Overhead

Unlike Android, Remix accommodates large amounts of RAM. Unlike Windows, it requires less hard drive space and runs smoothly on as little as 1GB of RAM. Its total footprint on storage hovers around 3GB. This is an ideal solution for older (and even newer) netbooks too slow for modern operating systems.

The hardware on my computer is anemic by Windows standards. It uses a dual-core Kabini based APU (what’s an APU?), clocked at 1.0 GHz. It’s roughly equivalent to an ARM quad-core processor. Even so, Remix runs like melted butter on it.

my pc specs remix os

Linux Driver Support

Remix draws on open source drivers to run its hardware. Located within the Settings -> About menu is a list of installed drivers. I found that the driver and software versions used were identical to those loaded by Ubuntu 14.04. For example, Remix loaded the MESA 11.0.9 libraries. Of special note: The Linux kernel version is 4.0, which is more up-to-date than Android 6, which uses 3.18.

drivers in remix os

On the downside, Remix appears to lack Linux’s ability to troubleshoot inoperable hardware. While Jide might add such a feature in the future, there’s no indication of its presence in the preview copy.

How Remix OS Runs ARM Applications

While Linux and Android run on x86 and ARM processors, there are caveats. For example, Intel x86 processors in Android suffer from an inability to run apps designed for ARM processors. Similarly, ARM processors access a very limited number of programs as evidenced by the much maligned Windows RT (Windows RT can’t run many apps).

The Android x86 Project came up with a novel solution: It uses a software called an ARM Wrapper.

The Android-x86 team has done an amazing job enabling ARM code to run on x86 systems. Given that Remix OS for PC is built on the Android-x86 project, we have the same capability to run ARM code on an x86 system.

Although wrappers come with overhead along with compatibility issues, I found the software ran well. Most of the games downloaded through the Humble Indie Bundle (read about other cheap indie games) were playable, without a hit in performance.

game running remix os

Features That Will Eventually Be Added

Judging from several unimplemented features displayed in the settings menu, it appears that Remix will soon add automatic software updates and configurable audio output.

Automatic Software Updates

What makes Android insecure is its lack of regular security updates. Remix OS solves this issue by cutting the Gordian Knot: It will provide an automatic software updater. The details of this system remain scant, although we can assume the update system will resemble the over-the-air update system in Android.

Configurable Audio Output

At present, there’s no way to change the way Remix outputs audio. In Linux, users can switch their audio from an internal 3.5 jack to HDMI. In Android, no feature exists. Remix OS by necessity appears to have included a non-functional placeholder in its audio configuration settings. If implemented, users should be able to switch their audio output.

remix audio output selector

The Future of Remix OS: Jide’s Goals

There’s another GUI-equipped, x86-compatible Android distribution: Phoenix OS. Of the two operating systems, Remix differentiates itself with its ethical objectives. What are the goals of the Remix team? Jide Technology responded with the following:

Our vision is three-fold: 1. To empower anyone in the world who stands to benefit from access to modern computing and information. 2. To enable people to revive their old desktop and laptop computers that are sitting around collecting dust with zero use value. 3. To be a major step towards realizing the future of Android PCs and disrupt the status quo in the PC market.

Support the Android x86 Project

While Jide doesn’t take donations, they recommend donating to the open source Android x86 Project. Any improvement in x86 on Android spills over to Remix OS. Those looking to experiment with a consumer-ready version of Remix OS 2.0 should look at Jide Technology’s  $70 Remix Mini.

Will you be trying out Remix OS 2.0? Perhaps you already did. Tell us what you think in the comments.

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