The official Android project only releases versions for the ARM platform, but there is an unofficial porting project for the Intel x86 platform called Android-x86. Using this version you can in theory install Android on any home computer lying around. In practice however you need to consider what kind of components your device has and if they have suitable Linux and Android drivers available.
Luckily if one of your excess computers that you have lying around is an ExoPC (WeTab), there is an ready made “ExoPC adaptation” available that is pretty complete and supports everything from screen light sensor to wireless connection and rotation detection. Here is how to install it.
First download the AndroidICS_for_Wetab_CorvusMod_finalRelease.iso file and then put the image on a USB stick using the command below, replacing sdb with your actual USB device name.
sudo dd if=AndroidICS_for_Wetab_CorvusMod_finalRelease.iso of=/dev/sdb
The insert the USB key into you ExoPC and while it boots, press the BBS icon to access the BIOS boot menu. Using the upper left hand circle button, press single presses to select the external USB key and long press to activate the selection so that is boots.
From there on you can follow the installation instructions at the Android-x86 site, although if you have experience installing any OS, you probably don’t need to read any instructions. When the installer asks if you want to have a fake 2GB SD card, you should answer yes.
If you want to preserve the previous OS you had on the device, you can do that and dual boot. The Android installer has full support for partition management. The booting is done with Grub, and the installation of Grub even automatically detects other operating systems, so setting up an dual boot is very easy. In the rare case that you need to tweak Grub settings, you can boot using the Grub option Android debug mode and edit the config file with command
Press ‘i’ to get into edit mode, make your modifications and to save and exit in Vi, press ‘Esc’ and then ‘ZZ’ (capital z, twice).
When you are done with the installer, just reboot without the USB stick and you will boot into a fully working Android system. Compared to Mer/Nemo UI, Ubuntu 12.04 or OpenSUSE 12.2 with Gnome 3.4, the Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwitch provides the fastest and most complete touch friendly experience. This is something you can really use on daily basis to read e-mail, watch TED videos or browse websites.
Apps and features not on the level of a full Linux system
Unfortunately not all Android apps in Google Play are available for the x86 platform, most notably Adobe Flash is available only for ARM platforms. Intel has been working on an ARM translator, so this might change in the future.
To my knowledge Android does not have a usable LibreOffice port yet or any other decent OpenDocument word processor or spreadsheet editor, nor is there a good plain text code editor, so dual booting to a full featured Linux distribution is necessary to get any actual work stuff done. Android also lacks comprehensive disk encryption and real multi-user support, so that might be an limiting factor for some.
There are however a range of apps that try to fix some of these limitations. For example SwitchMe emulates traditional multi-user features available in other Linux distros. Also the F-Droid provides an easy way to browse, install and update open source Android apps.
We are living interesting time as there is so much competition in the mobile space now. Let’s see how Android and it’s competitors develop, it’s certainly not too late even for new players to enter the game..