F-Droid, the free and open-source Android app market
If you are into the open-source movement, need an alternative to the Google Play Store, or just want more app selection, F-Droid is for you. It is an app marketplace, somewhat like the Google Play Store, but with a few key differences.
First of all, it isn’t the Google Play Store. This means Google neither approves nor disapproves of F-Droid and the apps within it. To install F-Droid, you will have to “sideload” it. Sideloading refers to installing apps from file rather than through the Play Store. Technically speaking, Google would say that the apps you download through F-Droid are sideloaded too. In this case, you’ll be finding F-Droid at their website.
Your system will warn you that this is dangerous and you may have to change a setting (“allow unknown sources” in security settings) to download an app like F-Droid from somewhere other than the Play Store. Google isn’t being evil here, they’re just trying to make sure malicious apps don’t trick you into downloading them. Remember when you used to get spam emails with *.exe files in them? This is the same kind of thing and by warning you, Android is protecting you from being blindsided by rogue *.apk files.
Since F-Droid is a free and open-source project, it is not malicious or dangerous. By nature of being open-source, lots of people have seen the code that makes up F-Droid and they all agree that it is not taking advantage of you. This is likewise true for all the apps within the F-Droid marketplace (repository would be the proper term here, since everything is free). Remember, Android is also an open source project – it is just the Google Play Store that gives Google its considerable sway over our use of Android.
F-Droid isn’t in charge of any of these apps. Rather, they aggregate the information for open-source apps, tell you what license they use in case you would like to build upon or share them yourself, and offer an easy and safe way to download them to your device. F-Droid does go about compiling the code into *.apk format (this is the file type for Android apps) most of the time, though, which is another reason to use F-Droid rather than keep track of these apps yourself.
While this deserves more space than we can devote here, we must mention that the free and open-source software movement is one that deserves your support. It has brought us several major developments, such as the PHP code that renders much of this page, the Linux kernel that powers Android phones and countless servers, Wikipedia, and the Firefox browser, among many other key parts of our technological world.
Free and open-source software such as F-Droid and the apps within it are typically made collaboratively, often by volunteers, and due to their being free do not generate profit for their creators. They are made, generally speaking, as a service to mankind. And while you should always tread lightly, those with privacy in mind usually do well to rely on as much as open source software as they can. Nobody is hiding sinister code in these apps because anyone who is interested can see that code.
The other nice aspect of this is that you can try out F-Droid and the apps within its repository at no risk to you, short of the few minutes you spend doing it. Hopefully our images and brief walk-through help you through common stumbling blocks there.
Have you used F-Droid to access free and open-source Android apps? Let us know in the comments!
Featured image courtesy of F-Droid, via their generous use of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.
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