Old Stuff - 'ThinDroid'

Geeks of a certain age may recall there was a period of time when Linux was been force installed, ported or just plain tftp'd onto almost any innocent random household object and appliance. No iPod could be left unattended for longer than the two and a half hours it took to get the upload to work. Well this post is from the sequel - Android onto everything- you might want to check your fridge...

This 4 year old post also captures the point in time at which #! morphed into Bunsen Labs


Firstly I guess I'd better explain the why of this project. XPe is a perfectly fine OS but it's dated, out of support and limits what you can and can't do. So I've been looking for an alternate OS that will tick the boxes in terms of ongoing development, support and ease of installation / use. I thought I had found a solution in #! (Crunchbang) but development has sadly stopped so there is no use in pushing forward with that. On the way to the current choice I found a few interesting diversions which might reappear but for now Android fits the bill and as many of the things I do are media related, it also provides multiple choices.

Note: #! was actually continued by BunsenLabs

This post will deal with the initial recipe to run Andoid KitKat (v4.4) on a thin term - for the sake of a name let's call it a 'thindroid'. There are a number of variations on the theme once you have the basic setup done and there will be future posts to cover that.

Your thin term must have 2Gb of storage and you will find limitations in terms of some hardware – for instance I know that cordless keyboards and mice work perfectly but USB webcams and some USB based cordless headphones and microphones do not.

Before we begin, this would not be possible without the Android x86 project. Yes the software is free and open source, but consider giving the guys a donation, OK?

Required:

  • HP thin term unit – I used a t5740
  • Android X86 installer downloaded from http://goo.gl/o7lWCV
  • Unetbootin downloaded from http://goo.gl/egp06r
  • USB thumb drive – at least 1Gb in size.
  • Something to control it with (USB keyboard & mouse, cordless keyboard and mouse, di-novo mini)
  • Cabled Internet connection

Optional:

  • You may need alternative video cables and adapters if you want to use a screen without a VGA connector. The t5740 has a DisplayPort connection that could in theory work with HDMI via an adapter.
  • Wi-Fi adapter if you need wireless.

Step 1 – Prepare the installer on USB

  • Download Android ISO and Unetbootin to a Windows PC.
  • Run Unetbootin and insert the USB stick. This will wipe anything on the stick BTW.
  • Format the stick with FAT32 before you start.
  • Push the ISO image onto the stick using Unetbootin’s DiskImage option. Make absolutely sure you have selected the correct drive letter for the USB drive you want to use and click OK. It will take a couple of minutes but you’ll end up with an installer on your USB stick for Android.
  • Click Exit and NOT reboot at the end.

Step 2 – Installation of your ‘thindroid’

  • Connect up the thin term to the hardware you are going to be using. Be aware that this is going to wipe the thin term of any information or programs.
  • Insert the stick in one of the front USB ports. Power it on.
  • Select the Installation option to install to harddisk
  • Next choose a partition that you want to install into. Although Android is dual boot friendly for a thin term that would be an insanely tight squeeze on 2 GB of flash. So the safest option here is to reformat any partitions that exist.
  • Make sure sda1 is highlighted and hit enter. Select ext3 and hit enter, confirm the format on the next screen.
  • Say YES to installing the GRUB boot loader.
  • Answer NO to creating a boot item for windows.
  • Answer YES to making the file system read/write.
  • Let the install run through (should take 3 or 4 minutes). When prompted to run or reboot, remove the USB stick and restart.

Step 3 – Initial configuration of your ‘thindroid’

As with all Android devices, it’s going to be almost impossible to use without a Google account. Decide now if you are going to use an existing one or are going to create a new one for the thin term. If you decide to go with a new account, head over to https://accounts.google.com and set one up before proceeding. Keep in mind that it you are going to roll out a few of these, then doing one, backing it up to Google and then restoring it by using the same credentials on another device are going to potentially save you some time.

The ‘thindroid’ will initially boot taking about 4 minutes to complete. This is perfectly normal and doesn’t reflect on the performance you’ll see once it has booted. As with all new Android devices there is some initial setup to go through. Your choices will depend upon location and other factors, but my selections were…

  • English (UK)
  • Skip WIFI
  • Say YES to a Google Account, give your details and agree to the terms.
  • Untick all the Google services
  • Leave the name as-is

On the language screen don’t worry if the mouse doesn’t appear to work. You’re in a limited window that is then going to kick off a few setup scripts in the background. If it doesn’t work on subsequent screens just unplug the mouse and then plug it back in.

Step 4 – Further configuration of your ‘thindroid’

This reads more like a to-do list, but if you are familiar with Android from a phone or a tablet then this should be straightforward.

  • Run immediate updates ( Settings > Apps )
  • Install an app to control screen resolution. The choice of App is up to you – just pick one from the Play store. I used Resolution Changer Pro by Nexter. If you need to know the numbers for the resolution then take a look here

Note that you may get a superuser request when installing apps or making changes. This is because the Android x86 install comes pre-rooted. Just select 10 minutes initially then permanently if the messages from an app become annoying.

Where the system goes from here depends upon the use. There should be about 650MB of free space available.

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