Monday, March 10, 2014

Breaking the Prism #002 - Alternative app store for Android

In last article from Breaking the Prism series I presented idea of alternative ROMs for Android. Today I will discuss next step - breaking free form proprietary app stores.

Currently, there are two main application stores for Android. One is given by default with most of Android powered phones: Google Play. It is official application shop for Android and it is managed by Google itself. Second store is called Amazon Appstore. As you can expect, it is owned by Amazon.

What is the problem with those appstores? They are heavily interested about what are you installing. You need account to be able to install applications, even free. To be honest, I'm not even sure how much information exactly user is sharing with app store. But it seems way too much.

Of course, anyone can develop own application and install it on any supported phone. This application will be packaged into .apk file, which could be distributed freely. So if you find any particularly interesting app packaged into .apk, you can install it (with usual risk factor for installing apps from internet) on your device.

If you are interested in application which is not only available via mentioned stores, and this application is also FOSS, it is pretty big chance that it is also available through F-Droid. F-Droid is kind of app store. It is quite similar for example to Debian apt system. It means, that F-Droid is app that manages different software repositories, allow user to install software from those repositories, and track updates. It don't even have user accounts system.

How to install F-Droid? You need to enable installation from unknown sources on your device. Then you need to go to F-Droid website and download its .apk. After installation you are free to browse through repository and install any software you will find there. When you want to install something, F-Droid firs will download .apk and then will try to install it. Note that you will still have enabled installation from unknown sources.

There is one cool feature that F-Droid has. You can add other software repositories, so more software will appear in software browser. So lets add Guardian Project repositories. Doing it pretty easy. You need to go through Menu > Manage Repos > New Repository and input there. Then just Menu > Update and voilĂ , you have access to several new cool apps. I will describe some of them in later articles.

I hope that this simple description will help with considering picking application distribution channel for Android. Stay vigilant!

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