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Android

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Free Your Android!

Android is an operating system mainly developed by Google. This page collects information related to FSFE's Free Your Android Campaign. Please start there to get an overview.

While the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) is Free Software, mostly under the Apache 2.0 license, it is mostly incomplete and cannot provide a decent user experience on devices without the addition of proprietary libraries (without them you will be unable to use your phone as a phone, the GUI will be slow, GPS and camera won't work, and so on). Android is nearly never shipped as-is on devices.

Vendors usually use non-free libraries together with their modified version of Android, for which they usually don't release the source code because they are not required to do so under the terms of the Apache 2.0 license, nor are the sources provided for non-free applications such as those found in the Android market. Consequently, the only source code they are required to release is that of the Linux kernel they are using, and sometimes the device is even "tivoized". As a result, most devices sold are running non-free software and must be liberated to give the user the freedom he/she requires.

Besides all this, due to the hardware architecture of some devices using Qualcomm system-on-a-chip technology, the liberation of a device may have a very limited effect since the hardware can still spy on you: the modem (a device which communicates with the GSM infrastructure) always runs non-free software and may exert another level of control and/or surveillance over the phone.

More information is available in an article written by Richard Stallman.

The Operating Systems

There is some options of different operating systems. You find them below.

What about the warranty?

Some manufactures tell you that your warranty will be void when you flash a different operating system onto your Android device. FSFE's legal team published a legal opinion, concluding that modifying or changing the software on your phone is not a sufficient reason for the vendor or manufacturer to void your statutory warranty.

In this section, we are collecting experiences that people have had in claiming their warranty for phones with modified software. Record your experience here, and make life easier for those who come after you!

... please add your experience with manufacturer warranty here ...

Replicant with the Nexus S

If you have a Nexus S the more efficient way to free your device is to install Replicant on it. Replicant takes CyanogenMod and replaces or removes the non-free libraries, shipping an Android Market alternative (named FDroid) that permits the installation of applications that are known to be Free Software.

The Nexus S is currently the Android phone that respects your freedom the most if used with Replicant. There are other phones that respect or promote the principles of freedom more (such as the OpenMoko FreeRunner) but they are not principally designed purely to run Android.

The Good

  • The modem is isolated and doesn't control the sound card nor the GPS and cannot read/write to the memory accessed by the main CPU (the one running Android). It cannot access the main CPU filesystem if used with Replicant.

The Bad

  • WiFi and Bluetooth functions depend on non-free firmware.

  • The bootloader is proprietary, partially signed and hard to replace.
  • To be able to use the modem (necessary for phone calls), firmware needs to be loaded in the modem CPU, however such firmware is already present on the storage of the phone. After the firmware is loaded, the modem cannot access the main CPU filesystem if used with Replicant.

Replicant with the HTC Dream or the Nexus One

If you have a Qualcomm device you should consider buying a Nexus S, but if you can't you should install Replicant on it. The non-free libraries present on these phones may perform a form of surveillance or spying. Installing Replicant which replaces or removes these libraries ensures that the undesirable activities of such libraries is no longer a threat. However, the modem runs non-free software and controls your "sound card" (think about the implications of non-free software controlling your microphone), your GPS, and can read/write from/to the main CPU memory. That's why it's a second-choice solution.

Note that the Nexus One requires firmwares for making phone calls while the HTC Dream doesn't.

The Nexus One is compatible with Replicant 2.2 and 2.3 while the HTC Dream is compatible only with Replicant 2.2 and below.

CyanogenMod

If you cannot buy a Nexus S and your phone is not supported by Replicant but is supported by CyanogenMod you should consider installing CyanogenMod, but without installing the Google applications, installing FDroid instead. This will ensure that only Free Software applications will run on top of CyanogenMod which is partially free (it ships non-free libraries).

Note that here is a DRM provider app that you can remove.

Non-Free Parts

CyanogenMod includes non-free firmware which is required for most of the hardware to work. For each device these non-free files are known. We need to help CyanogenMod so they don't need relying to rely on non-free drivers. In the meantime, we need to ensure that at least the rest of CyanogenMod stays free. So if you know about non-free software (except drivers and firmware) added to CyanogenMod, please let us know about it!

CyanogenMod 7 and 9 ship the ClockworkMod App that is not free. Also there seems to be a non-free flash-plugin shipped with the default browser. Since CyanogenMod 10 they use Google Analytics for statistics and ship Google's non-free client library. CMAccount, which was added to CyanogenMod 10.1, uses Google Cloud Messaging for server/client-communication and includes the Google Play Services client library that is proprietary.

Ideally, we get CyanogenMod to remove those non-free parts. If we don't manage, we should write some script or app that removes all those parts easily for the user.

The Apps

FDroid

FDroid is easy to install and provides free applications. Note that it doesn't require root permissions and is very easy to install, even without the command line.

Apps That Still Need To Be Liberated

Please add apps here that have no free counterpart, but are important to have on a free system. People can contact the authors of those apps and ask them why they are not Free Software.

  • Public Transport App

    • Öffi is a very popular app which builds upon a Free Software library by the same author.

    • There is now a Free Software alternative called Liberario that is still looking for contributors.

  • Menstruation Calendar and Calculator

  • All-round-Backup (You can only backup your entire flash with CyanogenMod's bootloader or use apps that backup only some data)

    • There is now also oandbackup that can backup your apps.

  • GSM-Hacking

  • [please add your candidates here]

Responses to Objections We've Heard from App Developers

We already collected objections and responses on FSFE's Free Your Android Campaign. If you know more, please add them here.

  • [please add here]


Portions of this page are modifications based on work created and shared by Google and used according to terms described in the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License. Android is a trademark of Google Inc.