Desktop Android? Multi-user Android support is on its way

Desktop Android? Multi-user Android support is on its way

Summary: Android is great on smartphones and tablets, but it could work on the desktop? One critical missing part has been multi-user support, but thanks to clues in the code we now know that multi-user Android support is on its way.

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Multi-user Android is on its way, can the Android desktop be far behind?

Your smartphone is your smartphone, your tablet is usually your tablet, but your desktop, well you probably share it sometimes with friends, family, and co-workers. That's one of the reasons why Android, the popular Linux-based device operating system has never been seriously considered for the desktop. Without multi-user support, it's not great for a shared computer. That may be changing. We now know that Google has been slowly introducing multi-user support into Android.

There's never been any question that Android users want multi-user support. A quick look through the Android bug tracker shows that users have been demanding multi-user support since 2011. Ron Amadeo, a writer for Android Police, an online publication dedicated to Android, has dug into the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) for code for Android 4.0 and 4.1, which was publicly released in early July,, and he's found clues that Android multi-user support is being built into Jelly Bean, Android 4.1. Indeed, some of it is already working today.

Officially, Google tells me that they “don't have anything to announce at this time!” But, while they may not have any announcement, the code speaks for itself.

Amadeo found that the following functions are being set up for multiple-users: “lock screens, installed applications, running applications, application data, default applications, home screen widgets, accounts, syncing, and language.” What's already up and working is a multiple user directory system: /data/systems/users.

Within this directory system he found that user 0, which seems to be present on all Jelly Bean systems,  has an "Accounts.db" file. This “is an SQLite database. It contains the accounts listed under the "Accounts" section of settings, in my case, Google and Dropbox. It also contains the full list of every Google service I've ever used, my preferred language, and my authtokens [authentication tokens]. So it looks like accounts and syncing is on a per-user basis now, too.”

In addition, Amadeo found that applications, both those installed by your device vendor and by yourself are storing their data in your user directory. In short, if Google were to introduce multi-user support, third-party application data support is already ready to go.

It's not just Amadeo who's been finding breadcrumbs leading to the conclusion that Android multi-user support is on its way. A programmer who goes by the handle zandwerman112 has published a how-to guide for enabling multi-user support in Jelly Bean. At this time it's very limited, but if can be done.

Other developers are now working on it, and one of them, Chirayu Desai, submitted a patch to AOSP and got a telling response from Amith Yamasani, a Google software engineer. Yamasani turned down the patch writing, “Multi-user feature is not ready for deployment. Bad things will happen if you use it in its current state! This UI [user interface] might change based on designs from our UX [user experience] team. Sorry, we cannot accept your change.”

There's your smoking gun. Google is bringing multi-user support to Android and it's far enough along that they're no longer working on just the background processes, they're also well into the user-interface design. The only real questions now are when and how will Google introduce it.

I strongly suspect we'll see multi-user support introduced in Android 5. Experts expect the new Android to arrive in 2012's 4th quarter. I expect Android 5 to show up on new Android handsets and tablets. I also expect Google to backport it to its wildly popular Nexus 7 tablet.

That will be great for users who share tablets, but what I really wonder if Google will decide to finally offer an Android desktop offering of its own. In particular, I wonder if Google will at long last combine its Chrome OS, which is just the Chrome browser running on a thin-layer of Linux, with Android for a new desktop operating system.

Think about it. Chrome now runs on Android. I like Chromebooks, but for every Chrome OS user there's already hundreds of Android users. At the same time, Microsoft is fumbling its Windows 8 introduction, if ever there was a time for Google to introduce an Android desktop, this is the time.

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Topics: Android, Enterprise Software, Linux, Mobile OS, Smartphones, Tablets, PCs

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  • Desktop Android? Multi-user Android support is on its way

    Android desktop would be interesting.
    daikon
    • i second that eMotion

      thx-1138_
    • There are systems...

      There are systems that let you run Android Apps on Windows now.
      fldbryan
      • Android Apps on Windows now?

        And you think that an Android user who does NOT get viruses on a Linux Device is going to switch to a virus trap RAM hogging defarg mmonkey business MS DOS WindoZe OS?

        How about NEVER!
        ITJohnguru
    • Multi-user support for tablets is why Android is doing this.

      It's not about desktops at all. In fact, one of the first things users were asking about with the 1st iPad is whether more than one person could use it. Of course, the answer was a resounding no.

      With the advent of tablet popularity in both the business sector and education, the lack of multi-user support is problematic. Same is true for personal use too. Remember, most people who use a 10" tablet use it at home almost exclusively. And with tablets like the Transformer line with it's keyboard dock, that comes very close to a netbook, multi-user support would be greatly appreciated. Would eliminate the issue of having to buy multiple tablets for the same household.

      The netbook or laptop is the new desktop in today's world, and the tablet aspires to be it's replacement. Multi-user support would greatly help in that endeavor.
      mrxxxman
      • Online banking, another use case for multi-user support

        If an individual uses their Android device for online banking and other financial transactions, one could choose to create a user account expressly for that purpose. Compartmentalization of one's online financial transactions via a user account will help to protect one's financial data and assets.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Gmail alone is worth having multiuser

        We have one Android tablet and two Google accounts. So really the only way it works is to have user 2 relegated to using a web browser on that tablet to check their Gmail and calendar etc while the native apps all belong to user 1. So while I wouldn't look askance at all at Android on a PC desktop or laptop, I don't see this as really evidence of that move.

        That said, why not? Recent evidence shows that TV boxes may actually be the next place you'll see Android. But really, doesn't it make more sense to just dump both Google TV and Chrome OS and just go with Android on basically everything? I can't think of any compelling advantage those other OS's have over Android.
        ArtInvent
      • Re: Multi-user support for tablets is why Android is doing this.

        @mrxxxman - "It's not about desktops at all. In fact, one of the first things users were asking about with the 1st iPad is whether more than one person could use it. Of course, the answer was a resounding no. With the advent of tablet popularity in both the business sector and education, the lack of multi-user support is problematic."

        Doesn't really matter though, does it? The moment multi-user support is available, someone will slap it on desktops and laptops - whether it was "meant for tablets" or not. And, within a couple of years you will probably have 1/3 of the new laptop/desktop market, as hardware makers and application developers rush to support it.
        andyprough
    • dumbest idea ever

      I would never let anyone use any of my multiple laptops or even think about letting someone touch my desktop or my tablet or phone. That would just be plain stupid. I have a named guest account on my wife's laptop for our baby sitter to use to play music and videos on for our child and the TV is setup to diplay out to the TV via HDMI also), and that is the extent of multiuser support in my house. The guest account does not have network access at all and can only access the music and video folders in their profile also. I also went through and disabled all application usage except VLC.
      aiellenon
      • Perhaps in your use case...

        For some users, your use case would indeed be applicable. However, there are many occasions where multiuser support isn't just convenient, but absolutely necessary:

        - Families sharing tablets
        - Enterprise use (businesses, schools, etc.)

        I work in IT at a rural hospital. If Android began to implement multiuser support - *and* was capable of authenticating against a login server on the hospital's network - it would be trivial for me to justify why we should be using Nexus tablets instead of iPads in our ER.
        northrup
  • It is all about the apps

    In the end, the important part is what can you do with it.

    Chromebooks are epic failures, because you pay a premium for a device that can't barely anything. And if you are offline (example, on a plane) you are just carrying around an expensive paper weight.

    Having multi-user capability is nice .... but what is the point if the users can't do any work??

    It is all about the apps. If it doesn't have (useful) desktop quality apps AT RELEASE TIME, it will be a total failure. We are not talking about a market that is new and still immature (ie: growing). We are talking about the desktop market ... a very mature and almost saturated market.
    wackoae
    • It likely won't be too big

      but I don't see why it couldn't be.

      Sure, it's not something that has photoshop or anything, but I could see the average user being glad to use a product that ties their devices together. That isn't to say that I think this will be a success, getting in on the desktop market isn't easy these days.
      Michael Alan Goff
      • Legacy / Work

        The problem comes with legacy apps, especially in the workplace. If it can't run business critical apps, it will be a non-starter. That is why IE6 is still so "popular" on corporate machines, the Intranets were written at a time when IE6 ruled the roost and companies can't afford to reinvest several million dollars to get then updated to work with other browsers.

        For private use, my main home use is photography and I don't see me using Picassa with 26MB RAW files over a 768kbps upstream line! And I don't imagine that Picassa and Firefox / Chrome are a suitable alternative to Lightroom running locally.
        wright_is
        • Quite true

          Of course, you're not the average consumer.

          And I don't think Google's going to do well in Corporate with this move, either.
          Michael Alan Goff
    • Entertainment devices converted to business

      Well, since it's all about the applications (and it is!) and the iPad and Android devices are largely designed as entertainment platforms, the conversion to business applications will be interesting to see.

      I see Apples being used in some very limited work apps now, but not to the extent of the laptop or desktop by any means. Full conversion to tablets will require more than Office as well. They'll need to play nice on corporate networks natively, without third party kludges. That's a whole lot more important than multi-user support.
      Cynical99
      • Agreed

        Android with companies like ASUS are already on that path.

        One small example of that is ASUS giving the Transformer tablets support for USB Ethernet in their last software update. I have a Transformer Prime with a keyboard dock and was able to use an Apple USB to Ethernet adapter on the full size USB port that resides on the keyboard dock. It's come in handy at work a number of times now.
        mrxxxman
      • Tablets are already used on an enterprise level

        In the healthcare industry, tablets are definitely seeing much popularity. As I mentioned in an above comment, multiuser support would make Android tablets more attractive from an IT standpoint than my hospital's current iPad setup.
        northrup
    • Entertainment devices converted to business

      Well, since it's all about the applications (and it is!) and the iPad and Android devices are largely designed as entertainment platforms, the conversion to business applications will be interesting to see.

      I see Apples being used in some very limited work apps now, but not to the extent of the laptop or desktop by any means. Full conversion to tablets will require more than Office as well. They'll need to play nice on corporate networks natively, without third party kludges. That's a whole lot more important than multi-user support.
      Cynical99
    • Android has lots of apps

      As long as you focus on functionality, rather than specific Windows-only applications, you probably won't have much trouble finding what you need.
      John L. Ries
  • What was wrong with shell script syntax?!

    Google should not invent its own comman-line, it makes an unnecessary learning curve ! Shell script in Linux is the best command-line ever!
    it is easy to learn, very flexible and a whole scripting programming language for more power users!
    GOOGLE SHOULD NOT TAKE DISTANCE AT LEAST NOT IN COMMAND LINE REALM
    L3thargic