Android-x86 Accuses Console OS of Scamming — What Happened
Does forking code come at a Price?
A storm has been brewing in the Android-x86 developer community. The CEO of crowdfunded project ‘Console OS’ has been accused of scamming his Kickstarter backers by failing to deliver on his promises. Thanks to popular threads on social media sites such as reddit, the storm grew into a full-blown drama hurricane.
But who are the parties involved, what happened, and how does this fall into place in the wider world of open-source development? I delved into the many posts made over this issue, both past and present, to bring you a comprehensive overview of what happened between Console OS and Android-x86.
Who are the Players?
- Android-IA: Android on Intel Architecture is an open-source collaboration to bring Android to Intel hardware. Intel itself contributed a large amount of support to the group, which is crucial for fixing hardware-specific bugs and getting necessary drivers running properly on Android. Without much warning, Intel dropped support for the project on all hardware save the MinnowBoard MAX. It is unclear why exactly this move occurred.
- Android-x86: An open-source, collaborative effort to port Android to a wide-range of computers running on Intel architecture. The project is maintained by volunteers without the support of any vendors, and has successfully ported Android to a wide variety of devices.
- Chih-Wei Huang: Lead maintainer of the Android-x86 open-source project. Based in Taiwan, the developer has offered his time to Android-x86 since 2009. An interview with Chih-Wei Huang ran on Gamasutra a year and a half back that gives some insight behind his work on Android-x86.
- Christopher Price: CEO of Console, Inc., and public face of Console OS. Known for his previous ventures ‘Mechaworks’ and ‘iConsoleTV.’
- Console OS: A crowdfunded effort by Mobile Media Ventures, Inc. (MMV) (now re-branded as Console, Inc.) to port Android to computers running on Intel architecture. Purports to be a fork of the Android Open Source Project, and aims to bring a functional Android build on various popular desktop/laptop configurations by licensing drivers from Intel. The Kickstarter ended on August 11, 2014 with a total of $78,497 raised from 5,695 backers. The project’s long-term goal, according to the CEO, is the “step up [to] Vulkan, and leverage Console OS to build a gaming console that takes on the major players.”
Time-line of Relevant Events
Note: there are many smaller events which play a part in each party’s grievances, however, they pale in comparison to the events listed below.
June 12, 2014: Console OS was announced on Kickstarter.
~June-August, 2014: Christopher Price, and all discussion of Console OS, is banned from the Android-x86 discussion board. The group’s reason for the ban is that they quickly determined the project to be a scam after speaking with Price.
August 11, 2014: Console OS Kickstarter ended.
~January 2015: Intel halts support for Android-IA, dropping both support for Core and PC tablets.
December 11, 2015: Chih-Wei Huang publicly calls out Christopher Price and Console OS, stating that Price is scamming his Kickstarter backers by failing to deliver on his promises.
December 25, 2015: The backlash begins to bubble as several outlets and developers begin covering the issue. It goes viral when the story is posted to the Android subreddit. That same day, Christopher Price posts an update on the Console OS Kickstarter page responding to the criticism.
December 31, 2015: In response to the accusations levied at Chih-Wei Huang in the Kickstarter update, Chih-Wei Huang challenges Christopher Price to produce at least 10% of the features he promised, and offers him $50,000 to do so by the New Year. Christopher Price responds, but does not take Mr. Huang up on the challenge, stating that the Android-IA mailing list is not the proper place to do so.
What are the grievances?
Chih-Wei Huang -> Christopher Price/Console OS:
- Accuses Price of cheating his backers by not fulfilling his Kickstarter promises.
- States that Christopher Price haven’t written a single piece of original code for Console OS, and that Console OS doesn’t really exist.
- States that the existence of Console OS hurts the reputation of Android-x86, as anyone reading the git log of iConsole will see that “cwhuang” is the biggest contributor to the project. If he tacitly consents, he may be “treated as an accomplice in [a court of law].”
- States that in their numerous attempts at correspondence (even once in person), Price has rebuked his requests to demo Console OS.
Christopher Price -> Chih-Wei Huang:
- Claims Chih-Wei Huang is attempting to “shakedown” Price by demanding he pay $50,000 in order to pull code from the Android-x86 project. For evidence, he put up an e-mail conversation he had with Mr. Huang. As Chih-Wei Huang is the lead administrator of the Android-x86 project, he is responsible for managing pull requests.
- States that it is unreasonable for Mr. Huang to demand a donation to pull from Android-x86, calling it “unfortunate” and a “disgrace to open-source.” He points out that Mr. Huang is an ASUS employee, and believes that it is unprofessional of an employee to make this request.
- States that Chih-Wei Huang has been overly critical of Intel and Console OS.
Christopher Price/Console OS -> Android-IA
- Disappointed that Intel dropped support for Android-IA, as Console OS relied heavily on Android-IA to get Android properly working on newer Intel hardware.
Community -> Christopher Price/Console OS
- Believes that Console OS is but one string in a long line of failed projects, from Mechaworks, iConsoleTV, and now Console OS/iConsole Micro. Major issues with the project stemming from a lack of honesty about where the project would pull its sources from.
- Worried that Android-x86 would be scapegoated for the lack of fulfilled promises made by Price.
- There are accusations that Price put up a Kickstarter campaign while knowing that Android-IA support would not last.
Examining the Grievances
Clearly, there are many, many claims being thrown around. We’ll examine each to let you decide the truth behind the matter. Note that many of these links are based on comments sections on various blogs and articles. The discussion on this topic has been heavily fractured and thus hard to follow.
Against Christopher Price/Console OS
- Has Console OS failed to deliver?
- Console OS proudly displays a list of differences between itself and other Android-on-Intel OSes. As we have yet to see a working build outside of an initial KitKat DR1 ROM (which is based on Android-IA, but without any of the promised features).
- Christopher Price has stated that they’ve burned through their Kickstarter money in an attempt to continue building off of Android-IA once Intel dropped support. They claim that they had spent considerable funding to license and develop Console OS, and that they cannot refund people at this point after the cuts taken by Amazon/Kickstarter. In addition, he states that his team of 6 has lived off of the $78k raised this past year.
- As part of its Kickstarter, the team has promised to deliver T-shirts, laptops, and other goodies to its backers, Thus far, these have not been delivered.
- Has Console OS been dishonest?
- In its Kickstarter ‘Risks’ section, there was indeed no indication made that the project relied heavily on Android-IA for development.
- In the October 29th update on their Kickstarter page, Console OS was likely already using Android-x86 as a base without mentioning it. By this point, Android-IA support was a foregone conclusion, but in the update Price states that they were able to “[watch] three movies straight in HD” from an “Intel Core 2-in-1.” At the time, Price states that the Console OS team would no longer have to “fight tooth-and-nail to build the engine” which now makes sense given the disclosure that they’ve rebased on Android-x86.
- Price now states that Kickstarter backers have also been investing in the Console OS website and forum. There was no direct indication of this on the Kickstarter page, but it seems that Price intends for industry support to continue working on Console OS. By building a website and community, and turning Console OS open-source, Price hopes he can entice developers and OEMs to support the project.
- Whether or not Price put up his Kickstarter while knowing Android-IA support would last can’t really be proven one way or another. In his Kickstarter update, Price claims that he had secured “designated contracts, on both marketing and engineering” from Intel, however these contracts “did not inform [them] of major revisions to Intel’s support, until after the Kickstarter campaign had ended.” Price has never truly proven that he had any support from Intel, either, which is crucial to back up his claim that he has any strong relationship with Intel.
- Has Console OS contributed any original code?
- In his initial post about Console OS, Chih-Wei Huang mentions that there is no original work done by Price. As evidence, he performed a git diff to show that the only changes made were a name change and inclusion of Trebuchet (Cyanogenmod’s launcher). Price claims that the changes they made “wouldn’t show up on a git diff.” His explanation for why this occurs is because, according to Price, only 70% of their code is live on Github, and hence this criticism is premature. He further claims that Console OS features “cutting-edge Intel drivers” that are unavailable in any Android-x86 distribution.
- In an update, Price states that he has “open sourced dozens of kernel patches.” However, if you follow the link he provides and open the zip file, you will find that the zip file primarily contains patches taken directly from Intel employees.
- In a comment on reddit, Price claims that Console OS “dynamically translate[s] ARM NDK code to x86 code”, which Chih-Wei Huang points out is a feature taken from Android-IA and already present in Android-x86.
- In several places, Price promises to commit code upstream to Android-x86 in the future (even as far back as July of 2014), but has yet to do so. “Once we fully stage GitHub, we will definitely offer incentives to the community to contribute improvements and bounties that benefit Android-IA, Android-x86, and Console OS alike.” However, Price refuses to pay an “extortion toll” to fork Android-x86. Price stated that Console OS would become the “Cyanogenmod to [Android-x86’s] AOSP.”
- Has Console OS met any promises?
- Console OS claims full support for Unity, Havok Project Anarchy, and Unreal Engine 4. However, without any working builds to show for it, we can’t say this claim has been met.
- Price has promised to build a hypervisor called “InstaSwitch” to allow for seamless toggling between Windows and Android with no GPU overhead. He claimed that several unnamed OEMs were in talks with him over this technology.
- Price promised to ship the iConsole Micro during the summer of 2015 as well as alpha and nightly builds of Console OS by March, but neither of these goals were met.
- On the UX end, Price has promised to make a UI that “[feels] like the mainline of PC OS interface standards.” This UI would have had an App Menu that “works with multi-tasking”, a “new navigation bar”, a one-page homescreen, and a mouse-friendly status bar. Finally, he claimed to have an “AOSP Mode” that shuts off all Console OS augmentations. This UX was supposedly sent to various PC makers who said they “liked it.”
- Regarding Wi-Fi cards and USB controllers, Price claims they’re licensing drivers from Realtek, Broadcom, Qualcomm, Atheros, and Intel but that they were struggling with Marvell. He also claimed that USB 3.0 worked at “SuperSpeed rates.”
- Is Console OS stealing code?
- No, as Chih-Wei Huang points out, forking Android-x86 is “definitely [legal] and allowed.” He even encourages it if the forking can develop something useful to the project.
- Most of Android-x86 is licensed under the Apache 2.0 license, forbidding the redistribution of software without properly attributing it. Mr. Price states that he has given full contribution now on all code pulled from Android-x86, which if true means he is not under any licensing violation. The Linux kernel used in Android requires the source to be released under the GPL, as well, which Console OS seems to meet. Chih-Wei Huang has not accused Console OS of failing to attribute its code in any recent statements, so it is safe to say this is not under any contention.
Against Chih-Wei Huang
- Is Mr. Huang guilty of shaking down Price for money?
- According to the e-mail conversation posted by Price, the exact wording used by Mr. Huang was to “donate” to “android-x86.org.” According to Mr. Huang, the $50,000 demand was an attempt at testing Price to see if he could show “something real” this time. Mr. Huang demands a video demo of Console OS or code uploaded to Github.
- Does Mr. Huang have trouble working with Android-IA?
Where does this fit in the bigger picture?
Such a scenario is not at all unfamiliar to the open-source world. A similar debacle happened back in 2005 between CherryOS and PearPC. Popular open-source rendering program Blender has faced many attempts at forking its code-base for profit without seeing many improvements submitted upstream. A more recent, and relevant example, involves Menuet OS and its fork Kolibri OS. Christopher Price claims that his fork is nothing at all like these previous examples. In a blog post, he likens Console OS to that of Boxee, CyanogenMod, and Apple’s WebKit.
Price promises to resume development in 2016, claims to be offering rewards for any contributors to his open-source project, and states that he will ship all remaining perks to his backers. On the other hand, Chih-Wei Huang has moved to stop development of Lollipop-x86 entirely and move to the Marshmallow-x86 branch in order to “disillusion the scam quicker.”
We’ve laid out the background, accusations, and evidence to hopefully give you a comprehensive overview of the controversy surrounding Console OS. We hope that you view this as a reminder to critically examine claims made for crowd-funded projects before investing your money into it. Moving forward, we will have to wait and see if the Console OS team will be able to produce any code worth some merit. Until then, the Android community has lost faith in the project given the revelations made by the Android-x86 team.
Where do you stand on this issue? Let us know in the comments below.
Update: Chris Price has since replied to several of the comments on r/Android regarding this article, find them here