Today, the hard-working coders at CyanogenMOD have something to celebrate: half a million installs of their latest version, CM7, based on the Android Open Source Project. This is the side of Android that a lot of consumers don’t get to see, the side that involves every-day people with full-time jobs slaving over lines of code to adapt the project to new devices, and to improve it for existing ones. Started in 2009 by compiling and altering the freely-available Android 1.5 code, the progenitor, who unsurprisingly goes by the moniker Cyanogen, decided that the shipping version on the HTC Dream, which was the first consumer-facing Android device, was underwhelming and needed improvement.
The project didn’t take off with the mainstream modding market until CyanogenMOD 6, which adapted Android 2.2 Froyo to multiple devices, including the Nexus One and HTC Magic, which at the time, was languishing with Android 1.6. In fact, the project has become synonymous with updating devices to the latest version of Android where carriers and OEMs have failed to do so in a timely manner. In Canada, the Rogers HTC Magic was only updated to Android 2.1 long after Android 2.2 was available via CyanogenMOD 6.
Currently CyanogenMOD supports 40 devices, including popular Canadian models like the HTC Desire, Desire HD and Samsung Galaxy S series. While not necessarily an easy project, installing a custom ROM onto your phone has become a lot easier than the command-line rooting procedures it once entailed, and the community is growing quickly. Still, half a million installs is less than the daily number of Android devices sold every day, so it’s fair to say that HTC, Samsung, Motorola and the rest of the big names releasing devices to market are in no danger of having their power usurped by a bunch of modest coders.
The outstanding issue, however, is that most people who install CyanogenMOD on their devices argue it provides a far better experience than the software their phones shipped with, and since it sticks fairly close to the stock Android experience one finds on the Nexus series, including the Nexus S, it is not bogged down with excess bloatware that carriers love to include.
But two years later, CyanogenMOD is growing, and quickly. And the more people who commit changes to the community database, the more power consumers begin wielding themselves.