Every new year is about new beginnings. In 2018, we can expect some cutting-edge stuff in the technology space, but we can also expect a brand new open-source operating system with its own associated web services to take on the likes of Google. Project Eelo, named so “because eels are small fishes that can hide into the sea”, could end up in smartphones by the end of 2018.
“We’re 7.6 billion people on Earth and I don’t see a good reason why they would all accept to have their private data cached by Google, Apple and a few others,” says Gaël Duval, the Europe-based project founder of Eelo. However, Duval told indianexpress.com that his approach will be realistic and pragmatic, which means he is not going to make Eelo completely isolated from the rest of the ecosystems.
“People want security and better privacy and many of them are really fed up with Google. But at the same time they want mainstream apps,” he said in an email interview. He says this lack of mainstream apps is the reason “why FirefoxOS died”.
Duval accepts that there have been many attempts to release high-secure smartphones, “100 per cent open source ROMs”. He quips that while some of them will probably be excellent for James Bond, they might find the fancy of miscreants too. “So I want to offer something better, something that goes to the right direction, while ‘educating people’ and while knowing that we are not going to change the world in one day,” says Duval, the man who created Mandrake Linux a decade ago.
“What is driving me and is going to drive eelo is the same as what drove me when I started Mandrake Linux: what would be an acceptable, attractive system for my close friends and family, for Mum and Dad, for children? So by default there won’t be apps that are bad for privacy in eelo, and we’ll provide as many alternatives as possible for web services,” says Duval, summing it up: “People will be able to install Facebook on eelo if they want (and probably a lot of them are going to do so), in the meantime we will talk to them about Mastodon.”
Duval, who is now running a Kickstarter page to raise money for his project, says eelo is not really about technology, but more about user experience and a choice of society. “We have all the bricks though they need to be polished a lot (really a lot). And I think we can release a system with a very attractive UI and UX.”
The first level of his privacy-enabled phone would mean “no Google inside”. “Google is absolutely everywhere. Even in Chromium (the open source release of Chrome web browser), there are low-level code that is sending what the user is doing to Google,” he explains, adding that if “you use a Google DNS resolver such 18.104.22.168, Google is catching some information about your activity on Internet”.
The same with Google Search, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Drive and so on. Similarly, each time to install an application and or even use an app that is using Google services, you are sending some information to them, he adds. “Apple is catching your data (even health data) and using it for their business, and also they have a deal with Google to have their search engine by default for the user.” Duval promises alternative services “that better respect the user privacy”.
And Duval is clearly thinking of a global product with a local feel. “Mandrake Linux was the first Linux distro to consider that English was not the only language in the world. We had the distro in a dozen languages, even the website,” he explains.
Duval says he’s already seeing a lot of interest from India. “I got many messages from India telling me about the best selling device in India, what they would like to have etc,” he says, while clarifying that he does not have any specific plans for India as yet. Incidentally, his lead developer, Ashraff Hathibelagal, lives in India.
The team’s ultimate goal is to “design a 100 per cent open source eelo phone” with some “heavy reverse engineering on those hardware components to rewrite open source drivers” by partnering with FairPhone or similar open hardware projects. But that will be some time away. Till then let’s keep an eye on eelo.