20 Years FSFE: Interview with Torsten Grote

In our fourth birthday publication we are interviewing the person who explored Free Software alternatives for smartphones as easly as 2012: Torsten Grote. We reminisce about the emergence of the first smartphones. Of course, we did not miss the chance to discuss with Torsten Grote which options are available for liberating our phones today.

I recently tried to find a libre OS that I can install on my Android phone. There isn’t (as it isn’t for many Android phones). The interview in my opinion gives the wrong impression (a) that Android is totally libre and (b) that it can be replaced on any phone.

While the tone of the interview is optimistic, which is understandable because some things are improving, I didn’t get the same impression that you did about the state of Android. In one of his answers, Torsten says:

The biggest challenge still exists today. It is the lower layers of the device, the hardware drivers and the firmware that are still mostly not Free Software.

Another challenge in the early days was installing a different version of Android. Even for technical people this was quite difficult and could render the device unusable. Today, some phones even allow their operating system to be changed with your webbrowser by visiting a website.

I think the biggest challenge is finding affordable hardware that can be unlocked then finding a Free Software replacement that will work on it. Working on software and device drivers for phones has always been a niche activity in the Free Software community.