Stephen E. Arnold: Replicant Hopes to Free Mobile from the Tyranny of Proprietary Software

BTS (Base Transciever Station), Design, Innovation, Mobile, Software, Spectrum
Stephen E. Arnold
Stephen E. Arnold

Replicant Hopes to Free Mobile from the Tyranny of Proprietary Software

August 27, 2013

Citing freedom and security concerns, the makers of Replicant are calling for donations, we learn from “Fundraising a Fully Free Fork of Android” at Boing Boing. The project hopes to give us all the choice to run our Android-based mobile devices entirely upon free software.

But wait, you ask, isn’t Android is already open source? Well, most of it, but a few “key non-free parts” keep our Android devices tethered to proprietary programs. Such parts, they say, include the layer that communicates with hardware; yes, that would be pretty important.

Also of concern to Replicant developers are the pre-loaded applications that some of us call “bloatware,” but upon which many users have come to rely. The team plans to develop free software that provides the same functionality. (I hope they also include the option to delete applications without them returning uninvited. That would be a nice change.) Furthermore, they have set up rival to the Google Play store, their app repository called F-Droid. That repository, the article notes, works with all Android-based systems.

The write-up summarizes:

“Mobile operating systems distributed by Apple, Microsoft, and Google all require you to use proprietary software. Even one such program in a phone’s application space is enough to threaten our freedom and security — it only takes one open backdoor to gain access. We are proud to support the Replicant project to help users escape the proprietary restrictions imposed by the current major smartphone vendors. There will still be problems remaining to solve, like the proprietary radio firmware and the common practice of locking down phones, but Replicant is a major part of the solution.”

Replicant is underpinned by copyrighted software that has been released under an assortment of free licenses, which their site links to here. This is an interesting initiative, and we have a couple of questions should it be successful: Will Google’s mobile search revenues come under increased pressure? What happens if Samsung or the Chinese mobile manufacturers jump on this variant of Android? We shall see.

Cynthia Murrell, August 27, 2013

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