I’ve been running LineageOS on my phone for a while now (and cyanogenmod before that) and been reasonably happy overall. Still even LineageOS is pretty intertwined with the google ecosystem and worries me, especially given that google is first and foremost an ad company.

I happened to run accross mention of /e/ somewhere and since LineageOS did a jump from being based on ASOP15 to ASOP16 which required a new install anyhow, I decided to check it out.

As you may have gathered from the above, /e/ is a phone OS and platform, forked off from LineageOS14.1. It’s located at https://e.foundation based in france (a non profit) headed by Gaël Duval, who Linux folks may know from his Mandrake/Mandriva days. The foundation has a lot of noble goals, starting with “/e/’s first mission is to provide everyone knowledge and good practices around personal data and privacy.” They also have a slogan “Your data is your data!”

I downloaded and installed a 0.5 version here. Since I already had my phone unlocked and TWRP recovery setup, I just backed up my existing LineageOS install (to my laptop), wiped the phone and installed /e/. The install was painless and since (of course) there’s no google connections wanted, I didn’t even have to download a gapps bundle. The install worked just fine and I was off and exploring:

The good:

  • Most everything worked fine. Basically if it worked in LineageOS 14.1, it works here (phone, wifi, bluetooth, etc)
  • Many of the apps I use with my phone seem fine: freeotp, signal, twidere, tiny tiny rss reader, revolution irc are all the same apps I am used to using and are install-able from f-droid just fine.
  • There is of course no google maps anymore, but this was a great chance to try out OsmAnd, which has come a very long way. It’s completely usable except for one thing: The voice navigation uses TTS voices and it sounds like a bad copy of Stephen Hawking is talking to you. Otherwise it’s great!
  • My normal ebook reader app is available: fbreader, but I decided to look around as it’s getting a bit long in the tooth. I settled so far on KOReader, which was orig a kobo app, but works pretty nicely on this OS as well.
  • For podcasts I had been using dogcatcher, but now I am trying out AntennaPod.
  • The security level of the image I got was March 2019, so they are keeping up with at least the “android” security updates now.

The meh:

  • The fdroid app isn’t pre-installed, but it’s easy to install it. They plan to have their own store for apps that will just show additional information over the play store, etc.
  • There is ‘fennec’ in f-droid. You can’t seem to install firefox as all download links lead to the play store.
  • I had been using google photos to store backups/easy web access versions of pictures and movies I took, but of course now I just need to look into alternatives. Perhaps syncthing.

The bad:

  • A few apps I was using are of course non free and not available in f-droid: tello, vizio smartcast, various horrible IOT smart things apps, my credit unions silly app, etc. tello works fine if you can find a apk not on the play store. vizio smartcast seems to fail asking for location services (which should work, but oh well).
  • Untappd doesn’t seem to have a .apk easily available, so I guess twitter will be spared my been drinking adventures. 🙂
  • Some infosec folks looked closely and there was still some traffic to google: https://infosec-handbook.eu/blog/e-foundation-first-look/#e-foundation but they had a very reasonable reply I thought (not trying to reject or ignore anything): https://hackernoon.com/leaving-apple-google-how-is-e-actually-google-free-1ba24e29efb9

The install is all setup with MicroG. “A free-as-in-freedom re-implementation of Google’s proprietary Android user space apps and libraries.” It does a pretty good job pretending to be google for apps that need some google bits.

In addition to the OS, /e/ folks have a server side setup as well. I didn’t play with it too much as I am waiting for their promised containerized versions of the server side so I can run them myself. These provide replacements for google drive, notes, address book, mail, etc.

The name /e/ is a bit strange to try and pronounce, or search for. Turns out they had another name at first, but someone else was using it and took exception. There is some mention that they are going to rename things before the magic 1.0 comes.

All in all I think I am going to keep using /e/ for now. Keeping up on security and the ability to make me look at open source alternatives to the various apps I use seems pretty nice to me. I do hope it catches on and more folks start to use it.