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The best known firmware is of course, CyanogenMod (CM), which is known to be installed on nearly 11 million devices. Flush with venture capital funding, CM's maker Cyanogen Inc is taking out some of the complexity of 'rooting' a device and 'flashing' new firmware by way of new Windows and Mac installers.
Founded by Steve Kondik, CyanogenMod has built a reputation for swiftly taming Google's latest Android builds and bringing its take on the OS to Nexus, Motorola, HTC, Sony and Samsung devices. So when Google released KitKat, Cyanogen Inc launched it in the form of "nightly" (unstable) builds of its CM 11, well ahead of OEMs.
Features include 'Privacy Guard' to help prevent apps from accessing things like contacts, messages and call logs on the device. It's also integrated PIE mode from another ROM, Paranoid Android (read on for more), and a range of options to customise how the device operates, from CPU performance to tiles.
The company has recently partnered with Chinese hardware maker Oppo to preinstall the OS on its N1 handset. OnePlus, a new startup, expects to launch its first device in the second quarter with its own version of CyanogenMod. CM's latest versions also integrate encrypted messaging support for multiple apps.
Image: Cyanogen Inc
Team Kang’s Android Open Kang Project (AOKP)
If pink unicorns and magic bytes tickle your fancy, AOKP may be your perfect ROM.
AOKP is another popular ROM that's been around since 2011 and supports around 60 mostly high-end devices from Asus, HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola, Sony, and Oppo.
The ROM, which is known for its customisation and theming, releases nightly builds every three days and more stable 'milestone' releases once a month.
As AOKP's developers highlight, their builds are lighter weight than stock ROMs since it stays fairly close to the Android Open Source Project. Its main features include custom toggles, custom vibrations, the ability to change the colour of a device's LED notification light, and unique UI features such as its gesture ribbon and navigation ring.
An interesting side note showing the momentum building behind Cyanogen Inc is that AOKP's founder has now joined the company to work there.
The developers behind Paranoid Android have impressed the ROM's large fan base with the launch of HALO multitasking bubble last year.
The developers took a leaf from Facebook's Chat Heads for the concept, which handles and displays messages from different social media and messaging accounts.
Image: Paranoid Android