F-Droid Free Software Repository: Interview with Ciaran Gultnieks


Pushing Free Software for Android

The Powerbase: On his blog, Karl Fogel recently proposed that application marketplaces should clearly advertise what license each application is released under. Do you agree with his idea? Would you like to see the official Play Store show the license for each application?

Ciaran: I don’t disagree with the idea, but it wouldn’t solve anything for me personally – we’ve already discussed several of the reasons why. If I think it’s good to be using open source software, why would I be using a proprietary market app in the first place? And if I don’t care, why do I want to know about the licenses? Clearly the issue isn’t as black and white as that for everybody, and it would definitely be a good thing for lots of people if (big if) it happened.

The Powerbase: Have any of the community Android ROM maintainers approached you about bundling the F-Droid client application with their ROM? How would you feel about ROMs shipping with F-Droid out of the box?

Ciaran:  The F-Droid client is already bundled with Replicant, which is great because the two projects are very closely aligned philosophy-wise. Someone installing Replicant is not going to fire up F-Droid and complain, “hey, where’s my Angry Birds?”

Aside from that, I’m personally not sure. I suspect most people installing custom ROMs are doing so simply to free themselves of manufacturer and carrier-installed crapware, outdated OS versions, or simply to get the better features available in some of these ROMs, and that they then go on to install the proprietary Google apps on top of that and are quite happy with that situation. Whether there’s an alignment between that user base and the kind of people interested in F-Droid I’m not sure, but one of our developers is in discussions so you never know.

The Powerbase: What are your feelings on the number of free and open source Android applications versus the closed ones? Did you expect more open source applications would be developed for Android then there currently are?

Ciaran: I honestly don’t know. I can’t make the comparison because I pay no attention at all to the closed ones. All I can say is there are enough open source applications for me, and there will continue to be more as long as the platform exists.

The Powerbase: It seems that for some Android applications, there’s a degree of ambiguity as to what license the software is released under. Do you think that, in some cases, the developers of these applications simply haven’t given thought to software licensing? Perhaps they wouldn’t be adverse to opening up their source if their users contacted them about it?

Ciaran: In a small number of cases, maybe. It does happen. One I was involved with was simply a case of saying, “if you don’t have time to maintain that any more, how about open sourcing it?” which the developer kindly agreed to. However, in the particular case I’m thinking of but deliberately not identifying, it turned out that the previously closed code contained a sizable chunk of GPL code anyway.

Thanks to Ciaran Gultnieks for taking the time to answer a few questions for us. For more information, be sure to check out our previous coverage of F-Droid, and Ciaran’s personal site.

About Tom Nardi

Tom is a Network Engineer with focus on GNU/Linux and open source software. He is a frequent submitter to "2600", and maintains a personal site of his projects and areas of research at: www.digifail.com .