Barnes and Noble's NOOKcolor
If you've been following along, you'll see that the NOOKcolor's a very capable device, hardware-speaking, and it runs Android. The folks at NookDevs thought the same thing, and they started poking at the NOOKcolor. They decided to attempt to root, or gain control of the hardware outside any blocks put on it by the manufacturer. They found that the device can be booted off a properly formatted MicroSD card. If they put their own OS on it, they could, in theory, boot off the card, mount the NOOKcolor's internal disk and make changes to it, allowing for installation of other software and modification of the unit. This is exactly what they did, and it turns out the NOOKcolor makes a very capable Internet tablet. Because this is a highly moving target at the time of this writing—literally, advances are being made almost on an hourly basis—I'm not going to do a step-by-step account of the method. Rather, I touch on the concepts here, and for current details, check out the NookDevs portal Web site (see Resources).
The method to root the NOOKcolor at the time of this writing is to use a specially prepared image of a MicroSD card. Once you get that image, you dd write it to a MicroSD card, then boot the NOOKcolor off the card. The NOOKcolor will not have anything on its display during the boot, so you need to have a bit of faith and wait a while, then pull the card and reboot the unit. If all goes well, once the NOOKcolor reboots, you should be able to talk to it using the adb command found in the Android SDK. If the result of adb devices shows a serial number, you're talking to your NOOKcolor via the debugger, and you can sideload programs in the Android .apk format to it! Anything you add to the NOOKcolor appears in the Extras menu, so it's easy to get to and launch those new programs.
At this point, you can start pushing software to the NOOKcolor. Quite a few sites host Android freeware on the Internet (one of them is in the Resources section of this article). You even can get the ad-supported free version of the hit game Angry Birds running on the NOOKcolor. It runs flawlessly, and it's an excellent time killer. At this point, the sky's the limit. You can swap out launchers for alternate launchers and modify the system further (see NookDevs for examples of what you can do).
So there you have it—the NOOKcolor is a good e-reader and a very hackable device. If you're in the market for something fun to play with that has good build quality and lots of potential, check out the NOOKcolor at your local Barnes & Noble. It's a very nice device.
Dangers of Rooting Your NOOKcolor
Obviously, anything you do to modify the NOOKcolor voids your warranty instantly. Do not try to return it or pass off anything you've done as a factory issue. If you break it, you keep both pieces. You should be technically adept and have a good working knowledge of Linux before attempting any rooting processes. If you have any data on the unit, back it up, as you run the risk of erasing that data.
Having said all that, 90% of all the things that can go wrong with rooting a NOOKcolor can be fixed by doing a factory restore of the firmware. To do that, simply turn the unit off, then press and hold the Volume Up key, n button, and power button until the NOOKcolor turns on. You'll then be prompted with a Factory Reset wizard. Follow the steps to confirm the reset, and the NOOK will restore its firmware from a .zip file on a hidden partition of the internal Flash.
Please be sure to read the current instructions at NookDevs before attempting anything, as things are likely to change dramatically by the time this article is printed.
At the time of this writing, many things still are being discovered about the NOOKcolor. It appears that the chipsets inside the unit have Bluetooth functionality, and that it's simply disabled in the kernel and OS. There's strong evidence of that, but I was unable to get the reported Bluetooth operating, although others have claimed success with basic pairing to other Bluetooth devices. Check in on the crew at NookDevs for the latest news on what's going on with the NOOKcolor.
Bill Childers is the Virtual Editor for Linux Journal. No one really knows what that means.