I love Free Software (Apps)

Do you know being in a restaurant and getting a menu which is longer than the average novel, and you cannot decide for a single meal because every single one sounds more delicious than the other? That’s similar to the problem I was having when writing this blog post…

Today is the „I love Free Software“ day, on which people all over the world say „thank you“ to contributors of Free Software, often created in free time and with lots of passion. This is software you can use for any purpose, which source code you or others can analyse, which can be modified and distributed – any program respecting these essential freedoms benefits a fair society, and our most personal privacy and security in return.

After I thanked ZNC and Taskwarrior last Valentine’s Days, this year I want to focus on software running on the device that’s almost always in my pocket. My mobile phone is the gatekeeper of most of my communication: short messages, pictures, emails, social media, todo lists, calendar… it’s amazing thinking about what this tiny computer has to achieve to satisfy my needs. But of course, I also want to use as much Free Software as possible to secure my sensitive data. And because of that I cannot name a single software but have to list a few which I depend on almost every single day, and I want to sincerely thank the people contributing to them!

The foundation

With mobile phones it’s not easy to have a completely free operating system platform, depending on your phone model. For mine, I chose OmniROM, which still contains some non-free firmware but is as much Free Software as possible. And it works like a charm, having lots of nice features, a broad device compatibility, and actively development team.

Because I want to avoid non-free software and services which use my most sensitive data for their profit, I avoid Google and similar products as much as possible. Because of that, I do not load my application from Google Play but from F-Droid, an app „store“ offering Free Software apps only! Right now there are far over 1000 apps available, most of them fulfilling high quality requirements. All the apps I’ll list below can be found there.

My big five

I use my mobile phone for communication and information purposes. So K-9 Mail is my sanctuary, enabling me to receive and send, de- and encrypt my emails. Admittedly, the user interface isn’t the best, some things can get on your nerves (organising many folders…), but it just works. That’s an attribute I learnt to value.

The next layer is short texts communication. Since almost nobody in my circle of acquaintances uses oldschool short messages anymore, I switched most of my chitchat communication over to LibreSignal, a Google-dependency-freed fork of Signal, providing very strong encryption and a great and easy user interface at the same time. At the same time I still use Telegram (non-free server) and WhatsApp (absolutely bad) because it’s hard to convince all the contacts you have. But it’s nice to see how many people switched over to better alternatives meanwhile. And with Twidere, I can manage my GnuSocial and Twitter accounts easily with lots of features. And if you are still forced to use Facebook, try Face Slim.

As a scout, many people seem to think that I always know any direction. In the old days I had to navigate using stars and moss on stones, but nowadays I just pick my ultimate compass and can lead the way thanks to OsmAnd and Transportr. The former enables me to download offline vector maps, navigate on them, find points of interest (bars, shops, bus stops – and bars), with the latter I can use the public transport system of almost every larger city in Europe using a neat and fast-responding interface. And the best thing: It even works in areas without sun, stars, or moss-grown stones. But well, without battery…

The small things

F-Droid also contains a myriad of small jewels, nice tools for the even most absurd needs and situations most of us are confronted with not more than once in our lifetime. Not so absurd but also quite helpful for me are primitive ftpd, SMS Backup+, JAWS, and Port Authority. The first starts a small (S)FTP server which I can connect to using a client like Filezilla on my desktop computer, so I can exchange huge amounts of files faster than via Bluetooth. SMS Backup+ backups – surprise surprise – SMSs. But it uploads (and restores) them (and also call logs) to any IMAP folder you define, which comes in handy when you want to search your SMSs quickly at your computer in your email client. JAWS and Port Authority are small tools to debug networks. The former shows all nearby Wifi networks, their signal strength and BSSID. The latter allows you to see all devices in the network including MAC address or open ports.


So you see, Free Software is everywhere and you can do great things with it. Everytime I can replace another non-free and privacy-disrespecting service with Free Software, it makes my day. I hope I can give some of this joy today to the people making this possible!