#pragma keywords android, free software, apps, open source, app store, android market, foss, synchronize, replicant, cyanogen
Warning: This page is still a draft and should not be distributed until this notice is gone.
Android is a mostly free operating system mainly developed by Google. Unfortunately, the drivers for most devices and most applications from the "market" are non-free. This page collects information about running an Android system as free as possible and tries to coordinate these efforts.
- Political Background Free Software
Smart-phones are small computers that we carry around all the time. Most smart-phones are not controlled by the users, but by the manufacturer and the operator. The software that runs on them is not Free Software. Even Android phones ship with non-free software and proprietary add-ons that usually do not work in the full interest of the user. Software updates will only be made available when the manufacturer still has a commercial interest in your device. The applications (apps) available from the official market are most of the time non-free. Nobody is allowed to study how they work and what they really do on your phone. Sometimes they just don't work exactly as you want, but sometimes they even contain malicious features.
proprietary add-ons like Carrier IQ that spy on the users
- apps that phone home or use Google Analytics
Running only Free Software on your device puts you in full control. Even though you might not be able to directly exercise all of your freedom, you will benefit from a vibrant community that can do it together.
In order to use computers responsibly, people have to gain power over their computers. Only Free Software offers all the freedoms that are necessary to be able to control your technical devices. Unfortunately, the mobile device market has traditionally offered no totally free solutions, at least as far as you can find them for desktops and netbooks. Even simple functions are often restricted. For example, on the iPhone it is not even possible to remove the battery.
Our mobile devices contain more personal information than most private diaries do. But proprietary systems, even most Android phones, are designed to leave the data in control of huge companies like Google or Apple. Almost no user has full control over the most personal data on her device. Instead easy solutions for synchronization and data backup attract more and more people to store even more data in centralized hands. Whoever has personal information about me is able to manipulate me. Therefore this becomes a thread to democracy and our society. Questions about privacy belong to the most important reasons to support free software in general. Every smartphone needs you to log in on a centralized account and link your phone to this account. Until now there was no way to circumvent this. The user has just to trust the company without knowing, what information is linked to this account. With a totally free mobile phone there is no need to log in to any commercial account. There is no pressure to do so (or otherwize the phone just does not work) and also the advantages of a user-account can easily be acchieved. You control your personal data, your diary remains in your possession. You can have the cake and eat it too.
- The Operating System
An operating system is a collection of software that enables you to use your phone. Even though Android is mostly free, many phones ship with proprietary components and add-ons. Some phones also have a locked boot loader which prevents you from booting and installing other operating systems. If you want to buy an Android phone, make sure that the boot loader can be unlocked and that there are free versions of Android supporting the device.
- Replicant OS
CyanogenMod is the most popular aftermarket distribution for Android. It runs on many phones and offers features not found in the official Android based firmwares of vendors. It also ships without Google applications and gives you more freedom over your device. CyanogenMod is Free Software developed by an active community. It still requires non-free device drivers and firmware which are fetched from a device and are included in the ROM.
In order to install CyanogenMod, your device's boot loader needs to be unlocked. Some manufacturers consider your warranty void when you've unlocked its boot loader. The Wiki of CyanogenMod contains detailed instructions on how to install it.
After the installation, your phone will be freed from all those pre-installed proprietary applications and there will be no need to connect your phone with a Google account. With the exception of some non-free device drivers, your phone should run only Free Software. If you know about non-free software added to CyanogenMod, please let us know about it! There is a DRM provider app that you can remove.
- The Apps
For most people, the Google Android Market is the only or the main source for their applications. It doesn't even tell you whether an app is Free Software or not, let alone its license. Unfortunately, most apps from this or other markets are proprietary. Even if you install a Free Software app, there is no reason to trust the downloaded binary. Using the Google Market also requires a Google account. It is recommended to not use this market at all.
The FDroid initiative was started to change the sad Free Software app situation in the Android world. It builds a repository of easily-installable Free Software for the Android platform. There is an Android client application that makes it easy to browse Free Software applications, install them onto your device, and keep track of updates. When available it includes information about how to donate money to the authors of the app.
The FDroid repository contains details of multiple versions of each application. You can also easily create and add own repositories. But since the initiative is very active, developing in a decentralized fashion and open to collaboration, creating own repositories it not really necessary. Its goal is to include all useful Free Software Android applications and to keep up with their updates.
Adding Apps Yourself
You are encouraged to add applications yourself. There is a long queue of applications that wait to be added. Adding them works similar to FreeBSD ports and gentoo ebuilds by filling a simple recipe file which controls how a package is build from source. If you like to add apps yourself, you should read about how FDroid works with git and how to write these so called metadata files.
Synchronizing Your Data
When you run only Free Software and when you do not rely on non-free network services like the ones Google offers, you lose the convenience of synchronizing your contacts, your calender and other data with your other devices. Fortunately, there is plenty of Free Software that does this job as well:
Unfortunately, there are still some applications that do not have a free alternative. To use the proprietary app is a bad idea; it takes away your freedom. In addition, if you settle into using the non-free program, you won't feel the need for it to be free. Even if you don't know how to program, you can contact the authors of crucial apps and ask them politely for their reasons of not publishing their application as Free Software. Many apps are available without payments, so money is not always the dominating reason. Sometimes one email can make a difference and there have already been successful attempts: Chess Walk for example is now liberated.
Apps That 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.
- [please add your candidates here]
Responses to Objections We've Heard from App Developers
Only when we understand the motivation of programmers who keep their apps proprietary, we know what needs to be changed in order to change their minds and to convince them of liberating their own app. Please contribute your experiences with developers of non-free apps here and share useful responses to their objections.
- [need to be found by asking people, please add here]