In the realm of smartphone OSes, it’s essentially a two horse race between Android and iOS, with Blackberry and Microsoft fighting for the third spot. Although it’s unlikely that either Google or Apple will be ousted anytime soon, there’s another viable contender in Cyanogen. The open source replacement firmware is built upon the Android mobile OS, and as of this writing, it has already reached over 8 million people.

According to TechCrunch, the startup has now raised $7 million from Benchmark Capital in hopes of turning this once hobby into a full-fledged business. Steve Kondik, Cyanogen’s cofounder, explained, “This is something that I kind of started for fun when the first generation of Android devices came out. But it just took off and snowballed. And soon people started giving me advice about features that they wanted.”

The real allure of the Cyanogen firmware is that it maintains the familiarity of the traditional Android software, while providing users with enhanced security, improved response speeds, and a slew of customizable features. The latest version of the mod includes a brand-new camera app, a better protected messaging system, and literally thousands of different themes.

A secondary advantage is that new 'experimental' versions are released on a daily basis, while more stable monthly builds are also available. In essence, Cyanogen Mod is an ongoing project, with updates denoting when bugs are worked out and new features are added. 

Unfortunately, the complicated installation process has proved to be a major hindrance to Cyanogen’s success. It currently takes over an hour to successfully install the firmware, with one particular guide referencing the 23 different steps that are involved in the setup procedure. There’s also the innate fear that installing the third-party software could actually damage the phone or void the warranty. “The install process still sucks – it’s pretty brutal,” admitted Kondik.

So what does Cyanogen intend to do with the $7 million investment? Their first plan of business is to address the aforementioned installation issues, developing a one-click installer for Windows. It's also speculated that Cyanogen will announce a partnership with a hardware manufacturer in about a week’s time. Finally, they want to start their rebranding effort with a name change – apparently the name “Cyanogen Mod” isn’t considered consumer-friendly.