Being open source, Android is multifaceted – more so than other platforms. Take iOS, Windows Phone, webOS and even Symbian for example. Aside from major updates that alter the UI, these platforms, for the most part, look the same on every device that reaches a customer's hands. With Android, on the other hand, the software looks however the manufacturer sees fit. And if the end user doesn't like one or any aspect of the software that came on the phone then bought, they can completely change how the software looks, acts and performs with just a little know-how and elbow grease.
Chances are, however, that not every Android user knows how to build and compile their own ROM from the Android source code. In fact, the number of Android users capable and willing to "root" their device is still relatively small in comparison to the total number of users.
And because of its unique capabilities, some unique and rather impressive development communities have come to be. These communities are filled with all sorts of users and developers – from noobies to software engineers – who show camaraderie that is second to none. A lot of even the best developers out there work around the clock to provide users with top notch software, to make Android even better, without making a dime.
Sure, there are bounties that are made that are paid to the first developer who can port Android to a non-Android device, or to the first developer who can unlock and root a device. But, the majority of the time and majority of the development community works for free or donations. Even the biggest and most well-known team, CyanogenMod, works as a non-profit company and uses donations to cover their operating costs and to buy new developer handsets.
Last October, we learned that the CyanogenMod team officially supported 68 devices. (I would assume that number is well over 70 by now.) As you can imagine, this requires an unfathomable amount of work and computing power. Recently, the CM team lost access to compute clusters that they have been using to compile their ever-popular nightly builds (or nightlies). Long story short, they needed new servers to continue their work at full force. They needed Xeon-powered servers with large amounts of RAM to help churn out the 50 or so nightlies. Just yesterday, the team asked for help via their blog, and their goal was met by end of day.
If you've looked at buying a Xeon-powered server as of late, you're likely aware that they don't come cheap. A decent one will usually run for a couple grand. But we figure they're not looking to skimp on them since they're going to need some serious power. In other words, they're going to have to spend a pretty penny. Now they can afford to do that, thanks solely to the awesome development community that supports them.
It's truly an amazing thing.
But the guys on the CM team are hardly the only ones working, writing and digging through code to provide Android users with awesome software for our phones (and tablets). There are hundreds – more likely thousands – of developers who do it for fun, recognition among their peers and because they can. But stuff like this isn't always cheap or easy. They sacrifice their personal time away from jobs (that we assume they have) and their own sanity.
A single donation to a "beer fund" can go a long way.
There's nothing to feel bad about if you don't drop a few bucks in the developer's PayPal before downloading their ROM or mod. That's the point of donations. If it weren't optional, the developers would charge for their software (and lose a huge fan base and be shunned and outcast by the rest of the community).
Personally, I haven't donated in a long, long time. Not since I was deep into the dev world. I used to flash new ROMs on a daily basis and apply any and all tweaks I could get my hands on. That got pretty old with time, though. So now I just wait until there is a decent ROM worth using and I flash one every couple months.
Had I known the CM team needed help before they reached their goal, you better believe I would have contributed. But I missed it and they now have the money they need to keep doing what they do best. My money will probably now go to some Kickstarter project or the next Humble Bundle.
Tell me, readers. Do you support your favorite developers with small donations? Did you help the CM team out this go around? Will you in the future?