Remix OS is a modified version of Android that can run on practically any PC. It remixes Android into a desktop operating system, complete with applications running in windows, a Start menu, taskbar, desktop, and notification area.
With rumors that Google might merge Chrome OS and Android, and Google's desire to add split-screen multitasking to the Pixel C with future versions of Android, Remix OS might just be a peek at the future of Android.
This operating system was created by Jide Technology, a company formed by a trio of former Google employees. Last year, they showed off a Microsoft Surface Pro-like device running Remix OS. Now, they've made Remix OS available to download, and you can run it yourself on practically any computer or virtual machine.
Remix OS is based on Android-x86, an unofficial open-source project that ports Android to run on standard PC hardware. Remix OS adds a windowing system, turning that operating system into something that you might actually want to run on a PC.
Like typical Linux distributions, you can put Remix OS on a USB drive and boot from it, running entirely from that USB drive and even saving your settings and files to it. So you could take Remix OS everywhere—just like a Linux live system.
More novelty than usable OS
Despite all those pretty screenshots showing Google's Android apps and various Android apps from Google Play, the current code is definitely in a bare-bones, alpha state. The Start menu includes Browser, Calculator, Clock, Contacts, Downloads, File Manager, Google Pinyin Input, MX Player, Music, Settings, and Widgets apps. It should be possible to sideload Google Play Services and Google's own suite of Android apps—like Gmail—just like you could on a cheap Android tablet from China or a custom ROM that doesn't ship with these things. But I didn't even bother trying, as the initial release seems too unstable enough for regular use.
All that said, the File Manager is a particularly good example of what an Android desktop application could look like. Android already includes support for mice and right-clicking, so keyboard and mouse input both work fairly well.
I personally booted up the ISO image in a 64-bit VirtualBox virtual machine, and it ran fine. That's probably the easiest way to play with it, and you probably just want to play with it rather than running it as a real operating system right now.
A glimpse at Android's future?
What Remix means for Android is unclear. While Chrome OS has taken over the education market, it hasn't seen the same level of success that Android has in mobile. In particular, the selection of Chrome apps is pretty paltry, while development of Android apps is thriving. If Android were Google's laptop-and-desktop operating system, the app gap would cease to be an issue.
But Google's ultimate plans don't really matter. Android's fundamental open-source nature means it can be hacked and modified into a desktop operating system even if Google never wants to go in that direction. The Remix OS proves that.
Even if Android does become more of a desktop operating system, Google probably won't start offering it for download onto any PC. With some work and polish, Jide's Remix OS could become a more compelling alternative for average computer users than traditional desktop Linux. This is a project to keep an eye on.