The F-Droid Repository is an easily-installable catalogue of FOSS (free, open source software) applications for the Android platform. The server contains the details of multiple versions of each application, and the Android client makes it easy to browse, install them onto your device, and keep track of updates.
F-Droid is a non-profit volunteer project, founded in 2010 by Ciaran Gultnieks, with the collaboration of more than 30 contributors. If you want to learn more or participate in the project, you can visit the main website www.f-droid.org
You can also watch my video about F-Droid, a 12-minute tour around the project.
Who are you?
I’m Ciaran and I’ve spent the last 30 years developing software – for a long time that was games, and these days it’s enterprise software. In my free time, I contribute to various Free Software projects for fun, for learning, and to try and give back a little bit of the enormous benefit I receive from the work of others.
How did you start to get involved in free software?
I first installed a GNU/Linux distro in about 1996 but I didn’t really start using it daily until many years later. That gave me plenty of extra time to get annoyed by the various ways proprietary software would use its control over my computer to annoy and restrict me in ever more creative ways. This got worse and worse, and at the same time Free Software got better and better, until it made no sense at all to be using any proprietary software.
I don’t believe in the “proprietary software is unethical” thing that I hear a lot of (in fact, I’ve made a living most of my life out of it). Lots of people have their locked-down iPhone and all the proprietary apps that go with it, and are quite happy about that, and it seems to me
quite arrogant to suggest that all these people are wrong, even though I wouldn’t go near any of that myself. I don’t even see how DRM (which I hate with a passion) is “unethical”. I think people who accept it are foolish, but it’s their choice.
I also don’t believe there’s much point in trying to convince the whole world to use Free Software because again, most people don’t care and that’s entirely up to them. Personally I only want to use Free Software, and I’m happy to be able to work on things that help others who feel the same way.
How did you start with F-Droid?
When I first got an Android phone, I thought I could get away with just downloading FOSS from the Android Market. It didn’t take me long to realise that a) the Market app itself was proprietary software, b) it was really annoying, c) it was really hard to find FOSS in the Market, and d) just because something said it was Free Software, it didn’t really mean it was. I looked around for a solution to this, and although lots of people had thought about doing it, nobody had actually got anywhere, so I did it.
Now we can see that the project has several areas: (1) the server, (2) the Android client, (3) the application repository, and (4) the infrastructure and community management (website, forums, documentation, promotion…). Do I miss something? Which part takes more effort and in which one are you investing more time now?
Probably (3) takes the most effort currently, because all the applications have to be kept up to date, and there’s a huge backlog of new ones to add. All the other things could take just as much effort, as there’s a lot of new things that could be implemented, but there’s only
so much effort to go round!
How did you spread the word about F-Droid and find new contributors? Do you know any of them in person?
I’ve never really done much to promote F-Droid – people who need it just find it, and that’s where contributors have come from too. I don’t know any of the contributors in ‘real life’, they just turn up on IRC, in the forum, or in the source code repository, and do great things!
As I’ve already said I don’t really do the evangelising thing, but others do and their contributions have brought more users and in turn more contributors to the project.
What are your (or other member’s) relationships with Replicant and CyanogenMod projects? Do you think it is a good idea to join efforts in a “complete Android distribution” as with the Linux distros, with the OS, the package manager (F-Droid) and package maintainers for the different applications?
I follow the Replicant project pretty closely (I’m on the mailing list, and always in their IRC channel) although I don’t actually use Replicant on any of my own devices, because they’re not supported (yet). Replicant is a huge undertaking that really deserves to have more people working on it. The current developers do an amazing job considering there are so few of them. F-Droid is integrated directly into Replicant, so I guess that makes a complete ‘distribution’ to some extent.
I actually use CyanogenMod (with various bits deleted) on most of my Android devices, but don’t have any relationship with the project. I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think Free Software is a focus or goal of CyanogenMod – as I understand it, they would still be happily shipping all the proprietary Google Apps if Google hadn’t made them
stop. This is fine if it suits them, it’s just not for me. They do a great job though, and free a huge number of people from the junk that carriers and manufacturers try to force on them.
What is the biggest problem or challenge that F-Droid needs to face in the short/mid term?
There are all kinds of technical issues waiting to be dealt with, none of which are very big on their own, but they add up to a lot of work. I guess the challenge is just to keep working on them.
Aside from that, again, it’s the maintaining of the repository. This is a lot of work because it involves building all the applications, and their updates, from source. This is essential, because it’s the only way to know they actually can be built and that there’s nothing missing
and no proprietary libraries hiding in there. Those problems are very common indeed.
What were your expectations about F-Droid when you started the project and what are your expectations now?
I didn’t really have any, other than knowing what I needed and knowing that other people needed it too. I’m always surprised by how many people find it useful, and I hope that continues. I certainly never expected so many people to join in with the effort, and I hope that carries on too.
Anything else you would like to say?
That’s an easy one, I’d like to say thank you to everyone (and that’s a lot of people) who’ve contributed their time to developing, translating, designing, testing, troubleshooting and coming up with ideas, and to everyone who’s contributed financially towards the costs of keeping the servers up and running.
I also would like to say thank you to all the contributors of F-Droid project and specially to Ciaran Gultnieks who was very kind in the whole process of this interviews and also with my questions and petitions about the project, in order to contribute to the Spanish translation team.
I encourage everybody to use F-Droid and enjoy the free (as in freedom) software in your smartphone, and if you like, join the community! For me it is being a great experience.