Google Android in VirtualBox

Twitter is a never ending stream of information, some of it useful, some maybe not so, but one bit of useful information that did come to my attention today was a tweet from @IanEHarris mentioning that a Live CD image of Google Android has been developed that will enable you to try this new operating system in a virtual machine environment such as VirtualBox, or any other computer that could be booted of a CD or a USB stick. It's been known for some time that it is possible to run Android on x86 hardware with a port for the Asus EEE PC appearing earlier this year, but it was very difficult until now to get Android running on other hardware or virtual machines.

I've only experimented so far with running it in VirtualBox, but so far (and I haven't extensively used it), it seems to work pretty well. The project to create a Live CD of Android is called, appropriately enough, LiveAndroid and can be found at: http://code.google.com/p/live-android/. It looks like the project has only been running for a couple of months, but they have already achieved an image that delivers Android, with support for the mouse in their v0.2 release. I'm also happy to report too that when you start up the image it connects to the network too so you can use the Chrome internet browser supplied.

Android image running inside Sun VirtualBox

Downloading the CD image is a bit of a strange affair as for some reason it has been split into two parts which then have to be combined.  Download the files liveandroidv0.2.iso.001 and liveandroidv0.2.iso.002 from the project site, then I would recommend checking the MD5 sums to make sure these files are not corrupted, you should get the following (using md5sum [filename]):

6a0e94e6c6308d6ef64edd6c0a807786 liveandroidv0.2.iso.001
ac0ca2ebf9551885dd7615e4843dc4b9 liveandroidv0.2.iso.002

On Linux systems, you should then be able to combine them with the command (for alternative platforms and more information see: http://code.google.com/p/live-android/wiki/howtouse):

cat liveandroidv0.2.iso.001 liveandroidv0.2.iso.002 > liveandroidv0.2.iso

Again, check the MD5 sum to make sure the file is valid. It is always worth checking the MD5 sum where you can for large downloaded files, it will save you a lot of time in the long run! You should see:

03852bce8cb26aba21d147153c1fb120 liveandroidv0.2.iso

Now create a new virtual machine in VirtualBox. Click on "New" and type "Android" for the name, select "Linux" for the operating system and "Linux 2.6" for the version. When prompted for the base memory size you can enter 256MB. It seems to work with this memory limit, although if you run into difficulties you can always increase it. You don't need a virtual hard disc image for this machine, as the whole thing will run off the Live CD so when you are on the configuration page for this untick "Boot Hard Disk (Primary Master)" to stop VirtualBox creating any disc image. You will be shown a warning message about bootable media after this but just click "Continue". Click "Finish" to complete basic set up of the virtual machine, now click on "Display" and check that the video memory is set to 8MB - the same amount as is present on an Asus EEE PC 701.

When you start the virtual machine for the first time, you will be prompted to boot from a CD image. Do this and select the LiveAndroid CD image that you made earlier. You may have to Add this to the Virtual Media Manager first to make it available. With this selected you should find that Android boots up. For some reason I get a warning about 15% battery power left, but dismissing this gets me into the Android environment. Navigating your way around is done with a combination of using the mouse and some special keys, these are documented at: http://code.google.com/p/live-android/wiki/WhatUserSaid however I found some were different on my setup. I have my "host" key (the key that transfers control of the keyboard and mouse from the guest to the host OS and has some other functions) on VirtualBox set up as the right windows key, so got this layout:

Arrows navigation
Enter confirm
Left Windows key home
Escape back
Menu key (next to right Windows key) application menu
<Host Key> + F1 Console mode
<Host Key> + F7 Graphical mode

It is quite interesting seeing Android running in a screen much larger than the mobile phone screens where we are more familiar with it. Will Android become commonplace on netbooks? That is really unclear, especially with the announcement of Chrome OS, an operating system designed to be a browser and not much else. I'm still not convinced about Chrome OS, and I don't understand why Google would want to put a less powerful operating system on netbooks than it would on mobile phones? Maybe Chrome OS will fill a similar niche to Splashtop and Android will be Google's answer for more demanding applications.

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