About the Fairphone

Over the past months, we have been asked a lot whether Replicant is going to be running on the Fairphone. The goal behind Fairphone, as its name suggests, is to build a phone that is “fair”. This covers a lot of different aspects that the Fairphone company took care of: such topics as using fair and conflict-free resources, ensuring that all workers along the supply chain get a fair wage, improving the handling of electronic waste, being transparent about the cost of each part of the device, its technical specifications and encouraging open and flexible designs.
We are really glad to see a company producing electronic devices taking care of such many important aspects as social conditions of workers, ecology and handling of e-waste as well as transparency and being “technically open”.

What we are especially interested in, at the Replicant project, is how good the device will be when it comes to software freedom. Hence, we have spent some time investigating the device, even though it is not out yet. Thanks to the cooperation of Fairphone, we were able to draw a quite complete picture of it.

The Fairphone will ship with a modified Android 4.2 version. An overlay interface was developed for the device and should be released as free software, but what we are really interested in is the parts that deal with the hardware. First, the Linux kernel source code for the device will be released (it is copyleft software so this is an obligation). It will also be possible to build the kernel from source and install it on the device without the need to sign the kernel with the manufacturer’s key. Actually, there should be no signature check on the Fairphone for the kernel or the bootloaders. Some of the bootloaders (maybe all of them; we cannot tell for sure at this point) are free software and it should be able to replace them with a free build. We are a bit worried that the tools to flash the Fairphone may be proprietary, but if the bootloaders are free and/or there is root access out of the box, there will be ways to work around this problem. On the system side, some of the libraries that deal with the hardware have been released as free software for devices that use the same platform (Mediatek 6589), so the basic required features such as audio will likely work. We are also confident we will be able to handle the modem with free software (that means telephony and such will work).
Fairphone is really trying hard to get Mediatek to release as many components as free software as possible, but they don’t have the source in their own hands and nor can they decide to make it free software themselves, so it may take some time to arrive or eventually not succeed.

However, things are not looking so good when it comes to evaluating the platform that was chosen for the Fairphone: the modem is embedded in the System on a Chip (SoC) which leads us to believe that it is poorly isolated from the rest of the platform and could access critical components such as storage, RAM, GPS and audio (microphone) of the device. If this was to be the case (we can only speculate about what the truth actually is), it would mean that the Fairphone is fatally flawed for security as it makes it possible for the phone to be converted to a remote spying device.

In conclusion, we think it will be possible to have Replicant working on the Fairphone and the bootloaders (that are not part of the operating system) may even be free software, but we believe it is seriously compromised security-wise because of the poor modem isolation.
However, Fairphone seems definitely interested in doing things right on the software freedom side and helping us get Replicant running on the device!

Opening the Replicant Forums

It seems that we are asked way too many questions in the comment section of each page/post we write. Most of the time, the question is not relevant to the page and/or was already answered somewhere else.

Thus, we decided it would be better to open forums so that anyone can find answers both from us and from the community. Please, direct your inquiries to the forums if there is no particular reason to contact us privately via our contact e-mail address or to use the comment sections of our blog. The mailing-list and IRC are also good places for general-purpose questions since they are public, but it appears that many prefer to use web-based interfaces.

Registration was also made easier, since new accounts activation doesn’t require a manual confirmation from us anymore.

We hope the forums will help bring help and support, from and to the community.

Announcing the Free Software Foundation fundraising program for Replicant

Over the last few years, we have been asked countless times how one could make a donation to the project. Until very recently, it was not at all possible but thanks to the hard work of the Free Software Foundation team, especially John Sullivan and Zak Rogoff, it is now possible for the FSF to accept donations on the behalf of the Replicant project.

Donations will help us buy new devices and port Replicant to them as well as help us attend free software events to promote Replicant at. Devices donations can be accepted as well but we carefully select the devices we want to work on, based on how much they respect freedom, so we might decline some offers.

You might want to consider making a donation to our project, any amount will help, from the FSF directed donations page for Replicant.
Bitcoin donations are also accepted, at the following address: 13tgjejUJ6NtQVX9HvKz8svdcuWPNwgr5T

We also badly need new developers to help us bring Replicant to more and more devices as well as improve the status of the currently-supported devices. As a group effort, Replicant has better chances to succeed and bring freedom to mobile phone users. We are currently a team of two developers with less and less time to get involved in the project and bring new features. Becoming a developer is not even that hard: we have developer and porting guides available to make it easier for you to get started and we’ll be there to guide you all along. Even non-technical people can help to some extent, covering tasks such as building up documentation or writing announcements for the project if they’re good enough at it.

Please get in touch with us if you’re interested. The best way to start is most likely to get a Replicant-supported device and start hacking on it and if you prove serious enough, we might even use some of the donations money to provide you with a new device to port Replicant to!

Replicant 4.0 0004 images release

The last months have been rather calm for Replicant development, no big changes or improvements were made. That doesn’t mean the project stalled: instead, we added support for some new devices. The previous set of images added support for the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1/7.0 in their 3G versions and we were requested to provide images for the WiFi-only flavors of these tablets as well. Since it only requires very little work, we were able to quickly fulfill that request, even though we couldn’t test it ourselves (you’re more than welcome to spot and report issues about these devices).

However, the biggest part of what motivated us to build and release new images is the support for the Galaxy S3 device in its international GT-I9300 GSM version (not the LTE one or any other country-specific variant). Currently, only graphics acceleration, camera and GPS support are missing (some other features may need non-free firmwares that run on separate chips). A couple of other things are also missing due to technical limitations (NFC, FM radio).

We are still trying hard to bring Replicant to the Goldelico GTA04, but it couldn’t make it to that release either as we still need help bringing a reliable Android kernel to that platform (DM37x).

A more complete changelog is also available, highlighting in details what was changed. Special thanks to the team at CyanogenMod who fixed EXIF in the free Galaxy S2 camera module implementation I wrote but was too lazy to correctly implement EXIF into.

You can download the images from the ReplicantImages page and find installation instructions as well as build guides on the Replicant wiki.

Replicant 4.0 0002 images release

Since some progress was made lately, we decided to release a new set of images.

The new features available in this release are mostly camera support for the Galaxy S2, accelerometers support for the Nexus S and Galaxy S2 and RIL (telephony) improvements for all devices. A more detailed changelog is also available.

We are working to bring Replicant 4.0 support to more devices, such as the Goldelico GTA04 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (both 7.0 and 10.1 GSM versions).

You can download the images from the ReplicantImages page and find installation instructions as well as build guides on the Replicant wiki.

New set of Replicant 2.3 images, including Galaxy S support

As it was announced a few weeks ago, we are now releasing a new set of Replicant 2.3 images including Galaxy S support. Nexus S support was also improved, mainly on the modem part (there is now basic data support). Data should also be fixed on Nexus One with this release. More details are available in the detailed changelog.

You can download the new set of images:

Our Wiki was also updated with new pages regarding Galaxy S:

Galaxy S support is upcoming

Back when we were just getting started with Nexus S, a lot of people asked us to add support for Galaxy S, which is a very popular Samsung device running Android. It was quite hard to handle porting multiple devices at the same time. Though, now, a lot of work for Nexus S is over: we fixed graphics to make it usable, we wrote software to support the accelerometer chip, fixed camera (there is still work to do there) and, improved the very first fully free and usable implementation of the Samsung IPC modem protocol in order to successfully place calls, send text messages and connect to data via 3G (among other things we implemented). That was a lot of work and by now, many of us are using Nexus S as a stable daily-phone.

So, what’s the good news for Galaxy S owners? Well, most of the work we’ve done for Nexus S works as well on Galaxy S! Of course, there are still low-level adjustments to make to have it working as well, but it’s doable. A few weeks ago, I bought a Galaxy S device and slowly started the work. I was able to get the following features to work: graphics (as good as Nexus S), sound, calls, SMS, FM radio and accelerometers. The main problem I faced is installation: flashing the images via heimdall doesn’t work but it goes fine with CWM recovery, with all the correct image formats.

I think we will be able to release a new set of images for Nexus S, Galaxy S and Nexus One (hopefully with fixed data) and then, it’ll be time to start the work on GTA04 the amazing new replacement for the GTA02/Neo Freerunner board. Having Replicant running on GTA04 is the goal we’ll try to reach as hard as possible. We encourage you to help the GTA04 project with donations to fund the effort or by subscribing to the group tour to get your device at a lower price.

Wiki and tracker are now powered by Redmine

Replicant web services are kindly hosted by the Oregon State University Open Source Lab.
Recently, they asked us to consider switching from trac, which was powering our wiki and tracker, to redmine, another engine providing the same services. The reason is that redmine is easier to manage for them than trac. As a result, a few weeks ago, Replicant devs agreed and we started the migration process.

Bug reports, wiki pages and user accounts were migrated successfully, but it wasn’t be the case of the users passwords, which are in a different format from trac to redmine. As a result, if you had an account on trac and want to be able to use it on redmine, you’ll have to leave a mail at: contact@replicant.us in order to let us know and reset your password so that you can set the password you want.

From now on, use the following addresses:

Nexus S support in Replicant being worked on

A few month ago, we (Replicant developers) decided to start the work on the new Google Nexus S.

This device seemed an interesting target at first since it doesn’t have any technical restriction to flash a non-official operating system and kernel but also as it comes with the latest (free) version of Android, Gingerbread. Of course, even if Android Gingerbread is free, the device requires non-free bits (libraries, binaries, firmwares, etc) to actually use the full potential of the hardware.

The work was started at the end of July and the 100% free images of Replicant 2.3 that run on the device already contain a set of supported features. You can get a detailed state of the Nexus S support in Replicant at http://trac.osuosl.org/trac/replicant/wiki/ReplicantStatus#nexuss. All the source code is, as usual, available in Replicant’s gitorious repos. Though, we still miss a big part: the RIL, that is necessary for telephony.

We soon discovered that the hardware of the Nexus S was made in a way that gives better freedom guarantees than other Replicant-supported phones. You can read a rational concerning this aspect of the phone, along with a technical overview of the device at http://trac.osuosl.org/trac/replicant/wiki/NexusSTechnicalOverview.

Also, whereas the bootloaders for the other Replicant-supported devices are all non-free, it may be possible to port a free bootloader (u-boot for instance) to the Nexus S. A wiki page that comes with all the infos we have about this is at: http://trac.osuosl.org/trac/replicant/wiki/NexusSBootloader.

The next important steps in the Nexus S support are the following (in no particular order):

  • find out if a free bootloader is possible for Nexus S and start the work on it
  • write a free RIL so that we can use the telephony functions

and, when that is achieved:

  • release official preview images
  • replace the last replaceable non-free bits (GPS and compass for instance)

As usual, we are looking for new hackers to join the effort to bring some more bits of freedom to the mobile phone world.