Nowadays our phones might as well be computers. Most high-end devices tout specs on par with netbooks, and some tablets can stand toe to toe with low-end laptops. In a year or two, smart phones could catch up to mid-range laptops and become most users’ primary devices—especially as cloud computing becomes more viable and touch screens become more precise. Really, the only limit is the restrictions placed on the devices by their manufacturers. This is where rooting comes in.
For those not in the know, rooting is the process people use to gain access to the admin, or root account in an operating system or to give their own account those privileges. Why would someone want that, you might ask. Well, with admin access you can do a huge number of things, such as make edits to the operating system to change appearances of the heads up display or install programs not available in your region—and that’s just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg. Typically once folks have root they install a custom firmware to take greater advantage of their hardware or, as was my case with my Transformer, to upgrade to a newer version of Android once the device is no longer supported by the manufacturer.
There is a huge debate surrounding the act of rooting right now, fueled in part by the question of ownership. Most terms of service agreements say that rooting is a violation, yet there are those who feel quite strongly that once you’ve purchased a phone or tablet it is yours to do with as you please—a natural offshoot from expectations created by their open architecture cousin the PC. If you bought a computer and your Internet provider or the motherboard manufacturer restricted what you could install and how you could use it, I imagine you would be pretty upset. Needless to say, I’m on the ownership side of the fence.
So lets talk about actually rooting then!
At this point, the process is pretty simple. Most android phones that have been out for a couple of months can be temporarily rooted with a simple executable. Permanently rooting, however, usually requires installing custom firmware – an enterprise that can be tricky without help.
While I won’t tell you how to do it here, the tech wizards over at the xda-developers forums, who can be reached here, are there for anyone who wants to step into the realm of custom firmware roms. Given the way Android is based on Unix, once a new kernel is released it’s usually pushed out to all of the phone specific firmwares so no device ends up behind or unsupported until no one is using it. Really which rom to use just comes down to the question of which user interface you want or what overclocks you want to take advantage of. I use CyanogenMod because the interface is lightweight and offers a fair bit of customization. Other notable roms include AndroidME, AOSP, and builds based on HTC’s Sense UI.
Like all tools, rooting is only as good as the people using them, but, with a little interest, anyone can do it. Rooting can be—and frankly is in my opinion—a force to change the market. The environment for smart phones and other mobile devices is still very young and unless we are vocal and active about how we want the future to look, it will be decided in the best interest of the manufacturers and distributors. If you believe in open architecture like the PC, then believe in rooting.
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