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Newly formed company must tread lightly lest it anger Google

CyanogenMod (aka "CM") -- originally the creation of one man, Steve "Cyanogen" Kondik -- is far and away the most widely used replacement firmware on the market for the world's most commonly used operating system, Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android.  Today, Mr. Kondik's company -- which bears his handle -- is thriving, with 17 developers split between offices in Seattle and Palo Alto.

I. Cyanogen Becomes a Company

This week announced the completion of a round of venture capital funding.  The Verge reports that they raised $7M USD -- an impressive showing for such a small firm.  Most of the funding came from Benchmark Capital and Redpoint Ventures.  

These are some marquee name backers.   Benchmark is a prominent Menlo Park, Calif. VC, who has funded many industry greats including Facebook Inc.'s (FB) Instagram, eBay, Inc. (EBAY), the now defunct Palm Computing, and Red Hat Inc. (RHT).  Redpoint -- also in Menlo Park -- helped fund Juniper Networks, Inc. (JNPR), Netflix, Inc. (NFLX), and Right Media, an advertiser that was acquired by Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO).

First introduced in May 2009 for T-Mobile USA's G1 smartphone (the first major Android phone) -- Cyanogen grew via support for the XDA Developers community.  Today, official numbers show over 8 million users, but that's only the minority who opt to send feedback data to Cyanogen.  Cyanogen CEO Kirk McMaster estimates the true user base is around 16 to 24 million users, according to an interview he gave to The Verge.

Cyanogen Mod
Cyanogen's Jelly Bean (10.0) release [Image Source: Cyanogen Inc.]

He comments, "There’s always been lot of talk around who’s going to be the third dominant mobile computing platform.  Windows Phone would probably be number three now. If you look at what our actual user base is, we might be equal to or greater than that."

The founder of the company, Steve Kondik, says that Cyanogen's wild growth has been fueled by carrier profiteering.  Carriers are slow to upgrade users' phones, hoping to force users into early upgrades.  But replacing your Android's firmware with Cyanogen -- which receives regular updates and supports nearly all North American Android smartphones -- cast a monkey wrench in those dastardly plans.

Mr. Kondik blogs:

Google completely decimated an entire sector of industry by releasing Android as open source, and CM became something of an underground revolution fighting against the players in that industry still hanging on to the old-hat idea of trying to sell you a disposable new telephone every couple of years while charging a premium for trivial things. We know these aren’t just phones anymore, they are powerful machines with immense capability, and we could make them work however we wanted.

II. A Simple Installer -- Free at Last

The CM developer ring didn't transform into a bonafide company until December 2012.  Now, with funding backing it, Mr. Kondik promises a huge leap forward, which will make CM a true solution for all users, not just enthusiast hackers.  He writes:

The biggest obstacle we wanted to get out of the way is the hideous installation process. Today there are more open and unlockable devices than ever, but they all have their quirks and wildly different installation procedures. We've done our best to document the process for every device we support on our wiki, but it is still a daunting process for mere mortals. This is not sufficient—installation needs to be easy and safe. This is a great deal of complexity to manage when you are talking about almost a hundred different devices, but we decided to tackle it.

Cyanogen team
Cyanogen's team. [Image Source: Cyanogen Inc.]

Cyanogen Inc. will be releasing a Play Store app that makes unlocking most common Android devices a trivial click through an installer process -- rather than the current installation guides which can involve 23 or more meticulous steps.

CM Installer CM Installer 2

CM Installer
Cyanogen's upcoming two-step installer solution [Image Source: Cyanogen Inc.]

As to how the firm is going to make money, Mr. McMaster tells The Verge, "If you’re the default OS on a device and you have 50 million users, there are a lot of ways to make money.  It’s not just about building a user base. It’s about building great services you can’t get anywhere else."

One possibility is that Cyanogen Inc. could cut a deal to set the internal search end to the highest bidder by default.  Such deals net Mozilla and Opera Software ASA (OSE:OPERA) tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars.

The real question is whether Google -- which has always toed the line between full-on rebel coders like CM and the carriers it's partnered with -- will continue to tolerate CM, which it has never officially commented on.  As The Verge points out:

But what if some of those services get blocked? Core Google apps including Gmail, Chrome, and Maps aren’t open-sourced parts of Android — they’re part of Google Play Services. Using Google Play Services requires that a device be certified by Google. Firmware modifications like Cyanogen bring devices into a gray area where the original phone may have been certified, but the modified version could fall outside Google’s guidelines.
Tread Lightly
[Image Source: Hip Genius]

Thus Cyanogen Inc. might care to "tread lightly" as Walter White would say, lest Goole pull a page from Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) playbook and try to stomp  it out.

Source: The Verge

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This is sooooooo cool
By retrospooty on 9/18/2013 6:41:10 PM , Rating: 3
I cant wait to see whatever they put together. Running a released (as in not an early nightly beta release)version of Cyanogenmod is leaps and bounds above any carrier based ROM out there for any phone. These guys just get it. Working on thier own hardware and thier own Android fork has incredible potential...

The only problem is the waiting. We wants it now!

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By troysavary on 9/18/13, Rating: -1
RE: This is sooooooo cool
By Reclaimer77 on 9/18/2013 7:39:59 PM , Rating: 3
Are you stupid or something? Why do you insist on trying to make this dumbass talking point stick?

Installing software from untrustworthy third-party app stores is responsible for most Android malware. Which you can do without modding your phone anyway, so what's your point?

I'm sure Retro isn't dumb enough to install malware on a rooted phone. As are most people who use CM.

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By nafhan on 9/19/2013 1:27:22 PM , Rating: 2
Right. Most of the stuff you really don't want malware doing can be done without root (i.e. logging your data, snagging personal info, even keylogging). This applies in varying degrees to all the major phone OS's.

On top of that, most people who root their phones still get software from the Play store (or Amazon). The Play store is convenient and loaded with helpful "root required" apps. Google does not really discourage people from running rooted phones. The OEM's, carriers, Apple and MS do that, not Google.

The main reason to get apps from untrustworthy sources (IMO) is to get knock off free versions of paid apps. If you're doing that, there's a good chance you'll get what you deserve.

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By retrospooty on 9/18/2013 8:05:09 PM , Rating: 2
I think the complexity is way beyond you. Stick to your iPhone, it's simple, optionless, and easy to understand.

CyanogenMod is a fantastic custom ROM. It is not malware nor is it an unofficial application store where malware can be installed.

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By troysavary on 9/18/13, Rating: -1
RE: This is sooooooo cool
By retrospooty on 9/18/2013 11:15:59 PM , Rating: 3
"Again, rather than disputing the point, both reclaimer and retro resort to name calling"

I apologize for the insult but I did it because you commented on an issue referring to another thread where you obviously didn't bother to read and understand what you are talking about in either. You just completely missed everything discussed in the other thread and confused custom ROM with rooting and installing malware (which BTW, was an issue on Android 2.x not anything recent.) Its clear you don't get what any of these things are, what is required and how its used, and who abuses it.

"Why should users have to mod their phones to get simple OS update, anyway?"

They shouldn't have to. Device updates are a weak point for Android OEMs and Android in general. Fortunately there are options. Google editions, Nexus and if those aren't available In a phone you want, there are custom ROMs. Custom romming isn't made for the non technical or for the victim mentality whiners. Its an option for those that choose it.

" Just because I can recognise the strengths of a platform, doesn't mean I am some sort of disciple. It is possible to see good in the other guys once in a while."

I totally agree and do see good in all platforms. To me Android is simply the best for me right now. If something tops it, I dump it immediately.

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By troysavary on 9/18/2013 11:45:38 PM , Rating: 2
Isn't the point of making a one click mod installer available on Google Play to make it accessible to the non-technical?

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By retrospooty on 9/19/2013 12:04:57 AM , Rating: 2
That would be an upcoming feature, but it still needs to be rooted and the boot loader unlocked, so its still not for the meek. The events in the article above represent a lot of great things that are coming. Potentially a separate OS fork, and hardware as well (which would be easy).

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By Sazabi19 on 9/19/2013 8:53:53 AM , Rating: 2
You can say that again, took me 2 days to find and finally get working a proper way to root my Bionic on 4.1.2 JB. I had to DL a Linux VM image and a VM manager. Then I had to import the machine, turn it on, connect my phone (make sure it was on debug + a media device, not storage) and then I had to attach it to wifi on the same network (couldn't do it at work). Once I got that done and the in the VM I had to connect to my machine via a preset wifi shared area that let it know I was really the one trying to do this. Rooting took a few minutes and the device finally restarted. That was just the root, not installing SafeStrap (easy), following the directions to save my image, move to a new area, partition it, and then start to load CM. It wasn't until a day after I found out how to get core Google apps (play, maps, gmail, etc...). You have to flash those on yourself, as the article states, they are not free to just give out. I am running CM 10.1.3RC2 and it has been fairly stable the whole time (a few restarts/battery pulls) but overall it has been much faster and I no longer have my data randomly cut out on me. This gave my Bionic new life. I would love to get a VZW Nexus 5 though if they actually get 1 this time around.

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By nafhan on 9/19/2013 1:40:45 PM , Rating: 2
It sounds like you're saying: "technical people like wasting their time." Does that really make sense to you?

Technical people tend to be efficient, and a one click installer from a trusted source is more efficient than the current Cyanogen install process.

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By ritualm on 9/18/2013 8:47:00 PM , Rating: 2
Weren't you blaming the Android malware problem on modded phones a few weeks ago?

So you're saying Apple's walled-garden model is better than Android's wild-west model in terms of running unsigned code? Oh right, because that means you're auto-assuming I must have entire computers and phones compromised with all kinds of malware, because I don't adhere to the ultra-locked-down model of software security.

Except, there is a little problem with your logic. That walled-garden model did nothing to prevent malware from getting slipstreamed into apps. Also, I have not used any virus scanners other than MSSE for Windows for the past ten years and counting, while running unsigned code left and right. I don't even bother torrenting anymore.

Total number of infected files in those ten years? Less than ten, half of which came from junk email.

What Android malware, son? Better yet, can you tell me how I can infect my SGS4 with debilitating malware?


RE: This is sooooooo cool
By troysavary on 9/18/13, Rating: -1
RE: This is sooooooo cool
By Monkey's Uncle on 9/19/2013 10:50:55 AM , Rating: 2
For someone that has supposedly been using computers since the late 70s, you really don't know an awful lot about computers do you? Java insecure? As compared to what? Xcode? Do you even have a clue what Java or Xcode is?

Java VMs are used as the basis for mission critical applications used in 80% of the fortune 1000 companies of the world.

I challenge you to try and hack any major company's mainframe or middleware servers. We are not talking about mickey-mouse Windows security here. We are talking about balls-to-the-wall ENTERPRISE level security.

Just an FYI: It is not the virtual machine that is insecure, but the applications written to run in it. If the programmer hasn't a clue how to write secure networking applications of frameworks, then his networking application will end up being insecure. The VM has no part in controlling how a programmer will use it. This applies to Oracle's Java and is every bit as applicable to Apple's Xcode.

JAVA insecure? Try again and maybe read your Wikipedia pages more carefully before you pretend to have been "using computers since the late 70s".

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By ihateu3 on 9/20/2013 12:47:06 AM , Rating: 1
Apple OS'es are the first hacked at Defcon every year, and you are telling me they are secure??? It must be some GD conspiracy with those hackers at Defcon, they are purposely targeting Apple and no one else, because it surely could not be Apple at fault!!!

You guys need to start an "Applecon", where everything is joyous and flowers are given away, while no one hacks into anything Apple, especially since Apple does not even need antivirus...

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By Monkey's Uncle on 9/19/2013 9:14:31 AM , Rating: 2
Some sour grapes because your precious iPhoney doesn't allow you to upgrade a customized OS?

You can root an android phone, customize it, then unroot it if you like. Nobody says you have to leave it rooted unless you want to. And those that do root their phones have enough technical knowledge to accept the possible dangers of doing that.

It's a good thing Apple doesn't let you root their (supposedly your) iPhones. The "apple experts" out there would get into so much grief if Apple allowed that level of customization on their products.

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By karimtemple on 9/18/2013 7:19:02 PM , Rating: 2
Eh. I'm always weary when people turn things into businesses, but I guess we'll see.

And it's not like CM software is all that incredible, really. We like it because it's a customization of something someone (Google) has already made. Based on how lackluster Focal is, I would say they should just stick to enhancing pre-existing stuff.

But it'll certainly help that there's a reliable source of custom software that isn't reliant on spare time and hobbyist interest. I for one sure as hell check XDA for developer support whenever looking at a new phone to buy. If CM starts getting too big though, it could start to get ugly and/or stupid. The formation of a company sort of puts us at risk of that.

Here's hoping it all works out.

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By augiem on 9/18/2013 9:02:20 PM , Rating: 2
We like it because it's a customization of something someone (Google) has already made.

Correction, it's a customization of something someone has already made (Google) which was a customization of something thousands of someone-elses already made over the last 22 years (Linux).

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By kmmatney on 9/18/2013 7:30:08 PM , Rating: 2
I have a love/hate relationship with CM. I have found too many bugs in the products I've tried it on (2 Nooks, an LG phone, and an HTC EVO. The trouble is that people will say how great version X.XX is for YYY device, and then when I try it out I find issues within 15 minutes. I've just about come to the conclusion that it's not worth the time and effort, but at least an easy installer would lower the effort to install. It is pretty easy to install on the Nook, since you just boot from the CD card.

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By bupkus on 9/18/2013 8:08:28 PM , Rating: 2
I picked up a nook HD+ for 150 bones around Father's Day but I don't like the lagg in using B&N's Android ICS. I hope to upgrade it to CM10 when the new installer is available.

I also have an hp Touchpad I sold to a friend but have had problems with novacom so a new installation package should be helpful. She asked me to keep it up-to-date and I, sadly agreed.

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By retrospooty on 9/18/2013 8:12:41 PM , Rating: 2
If you're not willing to deal with bugs and things like that then don't be a beta tester and don't use the nightly builds. You can use the official releases. it's also come a long way in the past year just like Android has. I just bought an LG G 2 and can't wait for CyanogenMod nightlies to start testing. If I were less into it I would just be waiting for the official releases that are stable. it's also a great way to get the latest version of the OS. Right now Cyanogenmod official releases are on Android 4.2.2 and nightlies are running 4.3 most models are pretty stable at this point.

The other good thing is that it's done by enthusiasts, not by overpaid underperforming engineers at . corporation. They're more responsive and more in tune with what enthusiasts want

RE: This is sooooooo cool
By Monkey's Uncle on 9/19/2013 10:53:05 AM , Rating: 2

It is a pain in the butt to copy the rom and gapps to my MicroSD, then flash them via recovery (Don't forget to put on a customer recovery and root your phone first!)

A simple installer would bee way cool!

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