[Updated July 26] — The Free Software Foundation has launched a fundraising initiative for Replicant, touted as a “fully free” Android distribution and the first mobile OS to run without relying on proprietary system code. Donations will defray the cost of purchasing smartphones and tablets for development and testing, and will help the team expand its infrastructure and promote the project at industry events.
Although most of Android is already free software, manufacturers of Android devices use proprietary drivers for functions such as communicating with WiFi and Bluetooth chips. “Replicant seeks to provide all of the same functionality using only free software,” says the FSF.
“Every commonly available Android device comes preloaded with a variety of proprietary applications running on top of the operating systems,” explains FSF. Accordingly, the Replicant project created its own alternative app repository, F-Droid, containing a “full suite” of fully-free apps. Apps from the F-Droid repository can also be used on devices running standard Android implementations.
Some screenshots showing Replicant 2.3 running on a Galaxy S smartphone appear below.
Replicant 2.3 screenshots running on a Galaxy S
(click images to enlarge)
The screenshots below show Replicant 4.0 running on Galaxy S, Galaxy S 2, and Nexus S smartphones.
Replicant 4.0 running on a Galaxy S, Galaxy S2, and Nexus S
(click images to enlarge)
The Replicant project was founded in 2010 by Aaron Williamson, Graziano Sorbaioli, Denis “GNUtoo” Carikli, and Bradley M. Kuhn, “to unify the efforts of various individuals attempting to produce a fully free Android distribution,” says FSF. Most of the recent development has been done by Carikli and Paul Kocialkowski.
“Mobile operating systems distributed by Apple, Microsoft, and Google all require you to use proprietary software,” stated FSF executive director John Sullivan in the announcement of FSF’s support for the Replicant project. “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… 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.”
Kocialkowski added, “For a long time, it wasn’t possible to operate a mobile phone using free software, even though that is one of the areas of computing where the most important issues are at stake.”
The Replicant fundraising campaign is part of the FSF’s “Working Together for Free Software” initiative. Other projects supported by that initiative include the web media-publishing platform GNU MediaGoblin and the GNU Octave mathematics and data manipulation package.