Replicant 6.0 early work, upstream work and F-Droid issue

Replicant 6.0 early work and associated efforts: At Replicant, things are moving again: Replicant is being updated from Android 4.2 to Android 6.0 by Wolfgang Wiedmeyer. The status and feedback takes place in the forums before it is reviewed and integrated in the official Replicant repositories. This work is currently being done for the Galaxy S 3 (I9300).

At the same time, Wolfgang Wiedmeyer is also working on the following for Replicant 6.0:

  • Graphics acceleration with mesa and llvmpipe: while this still uses the CPU, it should be faster and more feature-complete than the default implementation. This will hopefully fix some of the previously non-working applications in F-Droid.
  • Building the toolchains: Replicant has always used some pre-built toolchains and utilities. Building such tools and/or using the ones from GNU/Linux distributions will make Replicant more trustworthy.

Replicant 6.0 should also bring full device encryption and SELinux support.

Future directions: In the future we also want to be able to support the upstream Linux kernel for devices with a minimal amount of effort. This was made possible thanks to:

  • Android becoming more standard: it now requires very few changes to the upstream Linux to work. Linux also received changes that made it possible.
  • The fact that the amount of work required to mainline a device in Linux has drastically been reduced, for some of the devices we target.

Devices such as the GTA04 and the Optimus Black are good targets for upstream Linux kernel support. They also allow running free bootloaders.

In a similar fashion, we also want to be able to support upstream bootloaders, such as U-Boot.

We hope that this will allow us to have longer term support for such devices. Even if Replicant is unable to continue to support such devices in the future, having them supported by upstream software will potentially enable users to use them with other free software distributions.

We have thus started the work to support devices such as the Optimus Black and the Kindle Fire (first generation) in upstream Linux and U-Boot. Other projects and individuals are also very actively adding support for other devices, such as Allwinner tablets, that will benefit Replicant eventually.

Helping Replicant by contributing to F-Droid: Replicant is supported, recommended by the FSF and listed as a fully free software distribution that respects the GNU Free System Distribution Guidelines, along with other GNU/Linux distributions such as Trisquel or Parabola. Replicant
ships the F-Droid package manager in its images.

F-droid is committed to distributing only free software, and it does. However some of it does not comply with the GNU Free System Distribution Guidelines.

Practically speaking some of the applications F-Droid distributes:

While the list of such anti-features is displayed in red when selecting an application in F-Droid, applications with anti-features are still listed aside compliant ones. This is also quite confusing since free software isn’t expected to contain
such anti-features in the first place.

It took Replicant a long time to realize the issue, this is due
to its developers being very busy, to the fact that the anti-feature
display is confusing and that there was no clear smoking gun.

After an investigation, that was delayed due to the lack of time, a
smoking gun was finally found, and a bug report was opened on the Replicant side.

At FOSDEM 2016, the issue was discussed with F-Droid developers in order to find a way to fix it. On their side, F-Droid developers also opened a bug report. Due to various reasons, progress was very slow and we recently learned that efforts to fix this issue came to a stall.

Replicant developers are more dedicated and used to working on system programming than writing or modifying Android applications. They are also really busy doing so. However, some individuals wanting to help Replicant may be able to work on Android applications, with some time to do so. This is exactly the kind of skills required to solve this issue in F-Droid. Getting it fixed is crucially important for Replicant.

If you’re interested to jump-in and help resolve this issue, please get in touch with us or with F-Droid developers directly to get directions on how to get started.

Media from 2016 Replicant talks

Various media, including slides and video recordings, from recent talks about Replicant are available on the Replicant wiki Conferences page, including :

Some of these presentations are great ways to get an overview of the freedom and privacy/security issues associated with mobile devices, either in English or French. They also offer an introduction to Replicant within that context. Other presentations cover specific technical aspects related to liberating devices at the lower levels.

Replicant at PSESHSF 2016

Replicant will take part in PSESHSF on Saturday July 2 near Paris, France for both a talk (in French), entitled Replicant : appareils mobiles, logiciels libres et vie privée and a workshop focused on Replicant (but possibly other aspects related to freedom at the lower levels).

The talk will be a great opportunity to learn about freedom and privacy/security in mobile devices. The Replicant workshop will showcase devices running Replicant and will be the occasion to get help installing Replicant, verify the project’s release key or just come by and have a chat!

As usual, we are looking forward to meeting you there!

Coliberator 2016: keynotes and workshops

Replicant will take part in Coliberator, the free software conference organized by Fundația Ceata in Bucharest, Romania on June 4-5 2016. Fundația Ceata is the Romanian foundation for Free Software and Free Culture, that proposed to host both a keynote and a workshop about Replicant at Coliberator this year. The keynote will be a great opportunity to learn about freedom and privacy/security in mobile devices. The Replicant workshop will showcase devices running Replicant and will be the occasion to get help installing Replicant, verify the project’s release key or just come by and have a chat! The Tehnoetic team will also take part in the workshop, with Replicant devices available for sale and more!

Scheduling details are still being worked out by the organization team and will be available soon. Either way, note that a GNU Libreboot keynote and workshop will be held as well during Coliberator. This year’s edition of the conference will thus highlight freedom at the lower levels in various ways! Note that Coliberator is organized by the Ceata team from small individual donations, so any contribution to fund the conference is welcome!

As usual, we are looking forward to meeting you there!

Replicant at FOSDEM 2016

Just like previous years, Replicant will be at FOSDEM, during the last weekend of January in Brussels, Belgium.

A lightning talk about the road to liberating software at the lower levels will be given at 18:40 on Saturday, in room H.2215 (Ferrer). This talk will be broader than the scope of Replicant. It will detail how liberating the software running at the lower levels can prove to be quite challenging. Those considerations will be made not only regarding the main processor, but also regarding controllers, peripherals and auxiliary processors.

As usual, there will also be plenty of other interesting things to see and nice people to meet!

This year, devices from Tehnoetic with Replicant preinstalled will be available for sale on the FSFE booth, as well as other Replicant goodies, such as 3D-printed keychains! Remember that part of the sales will go to Replicant.

We will also organize an informal Replicant developer meeting at some point during the event, so people interested in contributing to the project are welcome to join in!

In addition, note that Richard M. Stallman, launcher of the GNU project and founder of the Free Software Foundation, will be giving a talk about Free/Libre/Vrije Software: The Goal and the Path on Friday evening (the day before FOSDEM), at Brussels Campus Etterbeek, VUB.

Shops selling devices pre-installed with Replicant

A few months ago, we were contacted to discuss the endorsement of an online shop selling mobile devices pre-installed with Replicant: Qibre Computer Hardware. While we’re very happy to see such initiatives being developed, we asked for some conditions to be met before endorsing the shop, especially conditions that have to do with informing final users:

  • Users should not be mislead into believing that the devices are fine for freedom and privacy/security. There are plenty of issues remaining, that are explained in general on the Freedom and privacy/security issues page of the website and in greater details on each device’s wiki page (when documented). Those are out of the scope of free software support in Replicant, but it is crucial to mention them when selling a full device. Linking to these resources is a fine way to ensure that customers have access to that information.
  • The devices should ship with the official version of Replicant, not a version that was built from source and signed with different keys. However, it is fine to pre-install free applications originating from F-Droid on top of the system, as long as users are made aware of it.

Qibre has now stopped its activity until further notice.

A few weeks ago, Tehnoetic started selling devices pre-installed with Replicant and was featured on the FSF’s Ethical Tech Giving Guide and FSFE’s Free Your Android campaign. At this point, the following devices can be bought pre-installed with Replicant from Tehnoetic:

Tehnoetic donates a part of the phone sales profits to Replicant and F-Droid projects. In December, Tehnoetic donated Replicant $101 USD.

Thus, buying devices actually helps Replicant move forward! Buying from these shops rather than third-party resellers also helps them secure money to get stocks of Replicant-supported devices in large quantities, so that it remains possible to buy them for a long time!

Upcoming events for Replicant in October/November 2015

Even though development on Replicant is still moving forward at a pretty slow pace, we believe it is crucial to spread the word about the project in order to encourage more people to get involved but also to teach people about the underlying problems for freedom and privacy/security on mobile devices.

During the next two months, Replicant will take part in various free software conferences and events in France. A talk about Replicant, freedom and privacy/security will be given at each event, sometimes with a workshop or some form of public discussion, such as participation in a round table.

Starting next week-end, Replicant will be at the following events:

Those talks will be opened by Benjamin Bayart, iconic figure in the French free software community and long time activist for electronic liberties and net neutrality.

We hope to see as many of you as possible, to help spread the word about Replicant, freedom and privacy/security on mobile devices! As usual, each event will be an occasion to verify the Replicant release key and get some help installing the system on your device! Donations are also welcome, as they make it possible for me to attend such events at all.

See you soon!

November update: Due to the recent attacks in Paris, Capitole du Libre was canceled and Bazar du Libre is taking place in Toulouse on November 21-22. The talk about Replicant was rescheduled in Mix’art Myrys, room 2 at 3:00 pm.

Replicant 4.2 0004 images release

Even though things are moving slowly at Replicant, we figured it was time to release another batch of Replicant 4.2 images. This release doesn’t add support for any new device, but has a focus on security instead, thanks to an active member of the community: Moritz (also known as My Self on the forums). For months, Moritz has been evaluating whether Replicant is affected by various vulnerabilities, retrofitting patches to close those vulnerabilities and submitting these for inclusion in Replicant. Thanks to his great work, this release includes fixes for security issues such as the Stagefright vulnerability or the Installer Hijacking vulnerability.

Since the previous release, all the Replicant-specific source code was moved over to git.replicant.us, that is gracefully hosted by the FSF. We are planning on moving all the Replicant source code over to that new server, so that we don’t have to rely on third parties such as CyanogenMod and AOSP to provide the full source code for Replicant. In the meantime, we have started tagging the commits used for each release and signing those tags with the Replicant release key, so that it’s possible to reliably retrieve the source code for a given Replicant release. Those tags are also combined in the release metadata’s git-tags.

For a complete list of changes, you can take a look at the changelog. Installation instructions are available for each device, as well as build guides.

You’re welcome to join-in and contribute code to Replicant! Resources to get started on development are available on the wiki, as well as a list of tasks to improve Replicant.

Replicant and friends at Chaos Communication Camp 2015

As advertised in the previous blog post, I’ll be at CCCamp 2015 to talk about Replicant (as well as other things that I’m working on, like porting Libreboot to the C201 Chromebook), starting tomorrow.

Formally, I’ll be giving a 45 minute long talk at the Neo village tent on Sunday, about Replicant, software freedom and privacy/security on mobile devices. In addition, I have asked to give a lightning talk to highlight the necessity to have more developers involved in Replicant on Saturday at 17:05. The project is still mostly a one-man-effort and this situation cannot ensure the growth the project deserves.

People from the Neo900 project will organize the Neo village, where I’ll have my tent at, next to Osmocom. As usual, you’re welcome to come and say hi (and possibly verify the Replicant release public key as well)! I may just as well hang around the Quadrature village, where they have a nice tea house set up!

Neo900 folks also plan on giving presentations, starting with a lightning talk about Neo900 on Friday and a full talk about the project on Saturday, at the BER village.

See you there! By the way, my GSM network at camp is 5198, feel free to send me a message if you require my presence!

Update: The talks have been added to the Conferences wiki page. Unfortunately, the longer talk on Sunday had to be interrupted because of the lightning storm and couldn’t be resumed later. The slides are however available and hold the main elements of the talk.

RMLL feedback, Optimus Black advancement and CCCamp

Two weeks ago, I took part in RMLL as advertised on the Replicant blog shortly before the event. This year again, it was a really nice event to be a part of. Lots of people showed interest for Replicant and some even came specifically to see my talks about the project: what a pleasant surprise! The videos of my talks are already available on the RMLL website and they were also added to the Conferences page of the Replicant wiki.

Back from the event, the development effort was focused on cleaning up the bits and pieces laying around for Optimus Black support in U-Boot, now that the merge window is open. A patch series was sent for review earlier today and despite being incomplete as of now, it will serve as a solid base for future additions. Some more work is indeed required to have all the necessary features supported, but those patches will be written in a non-upstreamable way for Replicant at first. The current status of those dirty patches allows booting CyanogenMod without too much trouble, except for the occasional random reboot and other oddities that still have to be sorted out before it can seriously be used for daily use.

Thus, with basic bootloader support out of the way, it’s time to start the Replicant port to the device. Communication with the modem will require some heavy work on Hayes-RIL, our implementation of the AT protocol radio interface layer, that is supposed to be more modern and robust than other implementations. Other fundamental parts required to have Replicant running with sufficient features to make the device useful should be less trouble.

In a month or so, the Chaos Communication Camp will take place in Germany, organized by the almost mythical Chaos Computer Club. Replicant is going to take part in the event, hopefully with a lightning talk and/or less formal self-organized events. The camp will be a great occasion to chat a bit about the current state of the art of software freedom on mobile devices, and more! Various other interesting projects will be there as well: members of the Neo900 project will hold the Neo village, where I’ll be likely to be found. As usual, I’ll also be available to verify the Replicant release key fingerprint, help newcomers install Replicant on their device and basically anything else that I can help with!