Windows 8's bold grab for tablet relevance may snatch headlines, but it isn't the only operating system looking to extend its established supremacy over a whole new class of devices. As the PC market hemorrhages, more and more manufacturers are turning to Google's Android OS to power PCs that once carried Windows alone. From hybrids to all-in-ones to an Intel-promised flood of incredibly cheap "Droidbooks," Android cometh.
But wait! Isn't Android made for smartphones? And weren't the first Android-powered laptops a bit ... disappointing? And aren't there some lingering questions about how Android performs in a PC-type environment?
Fear not, all ye curious. The intriguing Android-x86 project has ported Google's open-source OS from the ARM processors common in smartphones and tablets over to the x86 chips found in everyday computers, so you can take Android for a spin on your PC before plunking cash down on one of the latest examples of computing convergence. And even if you have no plans to buy an Android PC, playing with Android on your current PC is just plain fun.
How does Google's mobile-focused operating system stack up on a full-size, not-so-mobile computer? You'll know firsthand after giving Android a test drive in a virtual machine.
Why a virtual machine?
Admittedly, virtual machines aren't as peppy as physical ones unless you have a bunch of system resources to toss around. And yes, you can install Android on your computer's hard drive—but I don't recommend even dual-booting this particular OS.
Hardware support for the operating system can be hit-and-miss, though the Android-x86 project mitigates that somewhat by providing several ISO files built around specific hardware, such as Asus and Lenovo ThinkPad laptops. Even so, running Android in a virtual machine is more consistently headache-free than dual-booting it. (Trust me—I tried it on three different machines.)
If you want to dual-boot Android regardless, the steps for doing so are basically the same as dual-booting Windows 8, at least up until the point of actually installing Android. From there, you'll want to pick up from the "Install Android on your PC" segment below.
No matter how you decide to roll, you'll need to grab some virtual machine software—we're using Oracle's excellent (and free) VirtualBox for this article—and the latest version of the Android-x86 port available. If an ISO for your specific laptop model is available, grab it.
Before we begin, note that you can click any image in this article to expand it to full size.
Get VirtualBox up and running
Once you've downloaded all the software, open VirtualBox and click the big blue Open button in the toolbar to begin. A Create Virtual Machine window will appear. Name your digital Android PC anything you like, but be sure to select Linux as the type of operating system, and Linux 2.6 as the version. Click Next.
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