In Praise of F-Droid (a Rebuttal to Ars)

F-Droid Logo

Ars Technica posted something yesterday that I need to rant about for a bit; in so doing you’ll hopefully get a taste of F-Droid, my other favourite Android app store.

A piece by Ron Amadeo, with the incredulous subtitle “free and open source software—on a smartphone?!“, is actually a pretty great premise; Android without Google is not only entirely possible, but in my opinion it’s the best mobile OS experience you can get without any meddling from any of the big tech companies. The problem with the Ars piece is that it very quickly turns into a bitch-and-moan session about F-Droid, the free and open source (FOSS) repository (app store) for Android.

Bad move, Ars… ಠ_ಠ

Beyond its raison d’être as a source for free and libre software—think “free” as in “freedom”; some people say FLOSS instead of FOSS—there are two features that set F-Droid apart from most other app stores out there:

  1. You can download the program files directly to a desktop computer from the F-Droid site;
  2. On your device you can “roll back” to any previous version of an installed app.

None of this is mentioned anywhere in the Ars post; its author is too busy complaining about F-Droid’s admittedly austere interface:

Living the open source life is tough. There are only about 1,000 apps in F-Droid, and while things are broken down into app categories like “Office” and “Security,” there are no top lists. With such a limited selection and no way to see what’s popular, it’s very hard to find something good.

… Unless you already know what you’re looking for. Here’s what to look for!

FOSS FTW!

AdAway

I wrote about AdAway in a previous post. It’s only compatible with rooted devices and is only available on F-Droid.

AntennaPod

A really good podcast aggregator. Also available on Google Play.

ChatSecure

Did you know that Facebook chat and Google Talk both support the open standard XMPP? Now you do. Also available on Google Play.

CSIPSimple

My Android VoIP app of choice. No more expensive phone calls home from hotels abroad! Also available on Google Play.

DashClock Widget

What all the cool kids use, and baked in to many custom Android ROMs. Also available on Google Play.

DuckDuckGo

Want a search engine that doesn’t track you? This app will make DDG the default for integrated search on your AOSP device. The Google Play version, Search and Stories, is probably a standalone DDG launcher.

K-9 Mail

Hands-down my favourite email client for Android. It was rough going for a while in the early days of Ice Cream Sandwich, but the developers have finally overhauled the UI to match its fantastic utility. Also available on Google Play.

Twidere

This was unexpected—a surprisingly decent open source Twitter client. My girlfriend’s using it right now and seems to like it. Also available on Google Play.

To be fair, F-Droid does kind of fall flat when it comes to mobile games, mostly because there are a lot of titles that, for whatever reason, haven’t been updated for full HD screens. But there’s no shortage of console emulators; failing that, you can always play Doge2048 in your mobile browser.

For AdAway alone I have F-Droid installed on all my daily drivers, but there’s a lot more to it than that one app. Yes, I also have Google Play installed, and no shortage of proprietary titles, either (mostly games). But unlike Ars Technica I really don’t think Android without Google would be so bad, and I’m very grateful that F-Droid makes that option possible.