Monday, June 28, 2010

Using Android without Google (part 1)

As magicfab on identi.ca requested, I'm starting a journal of my experience using Android without Google's proprietary apps.

I own an HTC Eris phone which originally came with Android 1.5. A few months ago a firmware was released by a 3rd party which allows users to gain root on their phone (about time) and I've been experimenting with this since. My primary interests were removing HTC's "Sense" UI so I could use a different soft keyboard and removing the backdoors HTC, Verizon, and Google installed in the phone.

After some disturbing problems with the VanillaDroid firmware, I switched to CyanogenEris 3.0 last week. Not only did this new build not come with HTC's Sense, thanks to Google hitting them with a threatening DMCA letter, the firmware came without Google's apps either. This includes GMail, GTalk, Google Maps and Market.

Everything works on the firmware except for USB tethering (which is a feature of the firmware). I started by using the browser to download the Barcode Scanner and then used that to install other apps via QR code:
The Foursquare app I was previously using refuses to install (likely because it depends on Google Maps app) and I haven't figured out how to install the dvorak keyboard add-on to soft keyboard.

I have the standard Android Contacts app, but without Google it does not sync to my Google contacts. I plan to remove my contacts from Google and write a small app that provides ContactsProvider2 via XMPP in an effort to decentralize and federate contact syncing.

I found the web version of GMail superior to the old app, though I do miss the Google Maps app (there are various OpenStreetMaps alternatives but they don't have the same features). The biggest thing I miss is the GTalk app, though its pitiful as far as XMPP clients go and we should be able to do a lot better.

Most importantly, my phone is now 99% free software with only a few of HTC's drivers left to be reverse engineered. Even for an advertising company Google is really stretching the truth when they call Android "open source" - but it should be an attainable goal.

6 comments:

MagicFab said...

Thanks for taking up my suggestion :)

One thing stands out from your post. QR codes mostly link to MarketPlace URLs. How were you able to install such applications ? Unless they are available from their sites' publishers independently, such apps often can't be installed at all otherwise.

I found this when I needed a file explorer to cleanup some files but didn't have an Internet connection to access the marketplace, and I had the hardest time finding a way to install it until I found OI File Manager.

That's only but one of the reasons I started the Android Free software list at https://wiki.koumbit.net/AndroidFreeSoftware

Installing from http://slideme.org/ is the next most free thing I'd do (next to direct URLs), are you considering / doing that ? I know it's not Free software although I remember seeing an offer to consider doing that if enough people would be interested.

Regarding synchronizing at least one application claims to do that without going online, if you search for "Thunderbird" you will find it. I ignore if it is Free though.

Regarding messaging there are a few XMPP-capable clients out there, not using GTalk is another step towards leaving Google services.

Some IM apps will claim Gtalk support but what we are looking for within this context would be apps that support XMPP in general. Yaxim would seem to fit that bill, although it only supports one account:
http://slideme.org/application/yaxim

Mapping apps seems a thougher nut to crack, I am interested in reading about your other difficulties but most importantly sharing whatever comes out of this.

One last thing - is it possible to enable other forms of logging or posting comments here that Gmail-account holders only ? Thank you ;)

MagicFab said...

I forgot to mention in my experiments with sync'ing contacts I also found that the primary means to sync directly is mostly disabled from the phone's bluetooth profiles.

Another way to sync would be as you describe becoming a new provider for contact sync - Funambol does this although they use their own cloud (which is also available as a free server).

That's what Ubuntu One does, altough so far I haven't heard it works with the Android Funambol client.

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DB said...

This experiment was tried before a while back in 2009, with varying degrees of success. Same pitfalls though - contacts sync, maps, GTalk. The rest of the proprietary apps are easily replaced. ASK for keyboard, K-9 Mail for e-mail, Amazon marketplace, Trillian for IM.

I for one would absolutely kill for a self-hosted "cloud" for my contacts and photos. I already do that for my music with Synology's NAS and android app. I wouldn't mind running some sort of a server at home either.

In terms of Maps replacement, I just read about latest MapQuest version that gives Google's Navigation a run for its money (both are free). Haven't tried Waze in a while, maybe their crowdsourced maps have gotten better. There are always paid solutions, of course.

Till said...

where's part two?
really missing calendar sync and contacts sync :'(

Arc Riley said...

Honestly, yea the lack of sync for contacts kinda sucks, but I've been using it fully free since I wrote this.

The lack of platform support for free software is frankly disturbing to me though, and I'm thinking of putting some energy behind Mozilla's plan of a browser-based mobile OS based on Android.