One of the key differences between Android, iOS, and other mobile operating systems and their desktop or notebook counterparts is support for multi-window modes. On a desktop PC you can open as many windows as you’d like and arrange them side-by-side or in other configurations. On a phone or tablet, you’re usually stuck looking at one app at a time.

Over the past few years a few companies have taken advantage of the open source nature of Android to change things a bit — Samsung offers a multi-window mode on many of its devices. And other companies have come up with multi-window modes that actually make Android work a lot like Windows, OS X, or a desktop Linux distro.

The developers of OmniROM wanted to do something similar — but they weren’t happy with any of the existing solutions. Instead developer xplodedwild looked to an older mobile operating system for inspiration: webOS.

OmniROM multitasking

Palm’s webOS software for phones and tablets used “stacks” as part of its multi-tasking system. When users opened multiple, related apps, they’d appear on screen as if they were a few playing cards or pieces of paper stacked one on top of the other. The app on top was the one that was currently in use, but the edges of other apps were visible underneath. To flip between apps, just pull out the one you want to use and place it on top of the stack.

Future versions of OminROM could borrow this idea. Here’s how it would work: You’d be able to divide your phone or tablet screen into two sides and have two apps running side-by-side. But the window on the right would also have a stack view, allowing you to add as many apps ad you’d like.

Only two apps will actually run at a time. Anything buried in the stack will be paused. But this lets you open a web browser or chat app, for instance, in the left window and have a series of additional apps that you can flip through on the right.

For now the new system is still just a concept. The team hasn’t actually added it to OmniROM yet. But future versions of OmniROM could add support for this type of multi-window, multi-tasking to the custom version of Android.

Since Android apps are generally designed to change their size and shape depending on the size of you screen, most apps should be able to run in the new system without any modifications. And xplodedwild says the goal is to create the new system in such a way that it will be easy to update when Google releases future versions of Android so that OmniROM will be able to move to Android 4.5 and beyond quickly.

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4 replies on “OminiROM multi-window concept for Android borrows from webOS”

  1. There were some great android desktops announced recently. And it’s open source for this very reason. Google just supplies the OS and make it scalable. If multi window is needed then OEMs will make it, and have. Once it’s a trend, Google will think about it. Same as always

  2. I think they’re missing the point.
    Multi-window is going to be most useful on non-mobile devices such as desktop/laptop systems with large monitors and multiple monitors. This “cascaded window” concept might work ok on some tablets, but tablets aren’t really crying out for even that.
    I have concluded that Google doesn’t think Android is ready for desktop use, so the AIOs we’re seeing in the market are being driven by Intel and OEMs trying to sell hardware. These don’t even try to escape the “big tablet” operational model. Once Google thinks Android is ready it will have real multi-window/-monitor support (and more) and will come “in a box” anyone can install on existing x86/x64 hardware. The Android-x86 Project strives to come close but is too resource starved to produce a real, usable product with the necessary level of hardware support (GPUs, NICs, etc.) to work on a wide spectrum of PCs.

    1. “I have concluded that Google doesn’t think Android is ready for desktop use”
      Personally, I believe Google thinks Android has a finite future and that ChromeOS will be its desktop product, when HTML5 comes of age. ChromeOS is slowly maturing and seems far mor suited for desktops than Android.

      I personally suspect by the time Android makes sense as a desktop operating system, Windows, Linux competitors, and ChromeOS especially will be far better options. Microsoft may be moving slowly, but everyone else is moving even more slowly. And I doubt Google is in a rush on ChromeOS since Android is still making it plenty of money…

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