Do you do app recommendations here (on the forum), or how does it supposed to work? Comparing F-Droid to what PortableApps.com is for Windows

platform
idea
improvement
suggestion

#1

I think it’s a good analogy to say that Android has become the new Windows; the most widely used platform. And what’s PortableApps.com for Windows, an independent platform that provides a great selection of free apps through a handy interface, in the Android world, F-Droid seems to have emerged to fill this role. As Android is not equal to Windows, F-Droid is not equal to PortableApps.com. Let’s get into it!

Oh, and please don’t come with how everyone is running a Linux desktop! Maybe your team does, all your team, but if with F-Droid you only aim at people running a Linux desktop, and your target market doesn’t include folks who just prefer free (or portable) software on Windows, you aim too small with the project.

App selection and discovery

Windows has been around for 20 or so years, and you can find most of the great, free apps you’ll ever need on the platform on a single page, divided into categories on https://portableapps.com/apps.

Android has become mainstream in, maybe the last 5 years, and if you ask me, for the direct, tried and true Android equivalents of the great, free Windows apps collected on https://portableapps.com/apps, I’d be in trouble. In Android land there seems to be much more apps, apps developed by smaller teams, or even just one person, the average app you use might be at a much less sophisticated stage than its Windows counterpart (don’t forget: the Windows platform had 20 years, mainstream Android is around for 5 years or so), many Android app projects are abandoned by their developers (I just read about the great purge here). All in all, and unlike for Windows, for the Android platform, some kind of app discovery aid and rating system seem to be necessary.

The large amount of available Android apps (or smartphone apps in general) compared to the average number of apps installed on the average smartphone user’s phone, especially the ones which are of actual use or value to her, compared to how these numbers work out in the desktop world is also worth noting.

The obvious rating system for Android apps is the Google Play Store ratings. For a starter, can we just get the Google Play Store ratings embedded onto this site in a neat form? Because what do we find on F-Droid? A huge list of (mostly unknown) apps loosely organized into vague categories (think of all the PortableApps.com apps fit on a single page) in alphabetical order, quite a few of them are abandoned, or haven’t been updated for long years (I know; the great purge just supposedly happened).

The people who visit and the Google Play Store and rate apps there are a different group of people from who visit F-Droid and would rate apps over here. So F-Droid could have its own rating system; why not? Also app discovery could be more nuanced than the top apps being the ones coming first in the alphabet. Some kind of online shopping algorithm could be utilized, similar to Amazon’s search (there are open source alternatives), what’s hot, what’s searched for by more people is on top, what’s rated higher ranks higher. Of course, everything in the F-Droid store is free (I’ve see some paid for upgrades for wallpapers here).

The rating system I suggest is a simpler one that the old 5-star ratings: thumbs-up, thumbs-down, and meh: Netflix Is Ditching Five-Star Ratings in Favor of a Thumbs-Up

It would be also neat to find more apps by the same developer; similar to how you can do the same on Google Play and iTunes.

Who is/are F-Droid? There are a bunch of names on your site, but no one seems to be highlighted as team leader. F-Droid is a nonprofit. I see absolutely no reason for you guys to be a nonprofit. OK, you are these nonprofit folks at heart; I get it. Then by all means, why don’t you incorporate as a social enterprise, B Corporation, or something like that? PorableApps.com is founded by John T. Haller (the name and the face you can associate with the idea), and he set up a for profit company for his venture, Rare Ideas, LLC. Do you have Twitter, by the way? On your home page I’ve only found some Twitter clone no one really use.

How does a project gets added to F-Droid? For example I happen to know the fine people of the popular, open source media player Kodi, would totally love their app to be on F-Droid. Does it more depend on you or them, who has more work to do to be included?

This other, neat project wants to be in, too: https://github.com/mpv-android/mpv-android/issues/37
Is it more up to you, or more up to them?

Would it be a totally against everything you stand for to possibly later on include 100% legal, supplied-by-the-developer freeware APKs, just like PortableApps.com do? They also started from open source only, then embraced legal freeware as well. For a notable example, take Foxit Reader. I think it would be a neat addition; everyone would gain from it; developers, users, and the platform as well (depending on your core values). I’m not talking about gray APKs, such as the ones on Aptoide, but the 100% legal ones. Just like how PortableApps.com rolls.

By the way, Aptoide has no real community. Both you and PortableApps.com have.

The bottom line? This is a little philosophical question: Do you want to be right or popular?/Do you want to be more uncompromising or a little more widely distributed? And how does your choice compares to the route John T. Haller of PortableApps.com has taken?

One related issue. For all APKs the home page offers a PGP signature. Except for the most important one; for the F-Droid app store APK. I understand various open source projects keep different emphasis on proper documentation (some care more, some care less), but in your opinion, what % of your users can do the verification on their own (especially by heart, without consulting 3rd party documentation)? On the other hand, if you added a simple SHA checksum, to what other percentage of your users that would be useful, and good enough; what percentage of them knows what the heck to do with it (without consulting 3rd party documentation?). Again, do you want to be more right, or a little more popular and useful for the masses?

So called repositories. Should a simple user know, care, and distinguish between the F-Droid Repository, the Old F-Droid Repository, the Guardian Project Repository, and the Old Guardian Project Repository? Maybe yes, maybe no, maybe something in between, such as this could be simplified for the end user on the outside and can be only seen from the back end. Good documentation could also help explaining the user why you just can’t put every app on a single page, just like PortableApps.com can on Windows, how Android (and F-Droid) is different, has to be different? Do you want to be more right, or a little more popular and useful for the masses?

Some related food for thought: Madhurjya Roy’s answer to Which version of Linux does Linus Torvalds use and why?

If you ever expect some funds to arrive onto your back account, you should display the name of your bank, and perhaps your account’s currency, for proper bank transactions. If I understand, quite a few of your team members are of Spanish origin; so why don’t you set up a euro bank account? That applies to a much bigger audience than an account and the currency they use on that funny island where they also happen to drive on the wrong side of the road. :wink:

Oh, and and also don’t forget to keep up the good work! :slight_smile:


#2

Okay, so obviously quite a lot of stuff here, but it is all good questioning. So here is my response to some of it:

Even if this is legal (which I’m not sure), I’m not confident that it is ethical.

This has been discussed quite a lot. Essentially it is not a technically challenging thing to do, but it is when you think about how to do it in a way which preserves peoples privacy, and doesn’t allow them to be tracked by servers as they use F-Droid.

This is something which I haven’t considered, which may be a nice addition to the client. We do have metadata bout AuthorEmail and AuthorName which would allow us to do this.

I don’t see this as a problem. If I purchase a piece of software, I don’t care who is the team leader. I just care that there is a group of people I can go to if I require support. Hopefully we do that well enough, by documenting clearly where you can go to get help.

Someone else recently suggested an improvement to our documentation to focus on the process of how to get an app included. Perhaps in a graphical flowchart-style approach so you can answer a bunch of questions which will guide you down the right path to getting an app included. I think this would be a great addition to our docs.

Personally, yes.

However, the whole design of F-Droid is based around the idea that other people can advertise and publicise their own repositories, and there is no need for them to be open source. I myself plan on create a repo of free-as-in-beer apps which were commisioned by the Australian government using tax payers money, but for which non-Google users are unable to access. It will be my job to publicise that repository though, not f-droid.org’s.

Why not both? F-Droid is already quite popular, and we are making changes to make the app and the ecosystem more usable and understandable by regular non-tech users. This is evidenced by recent funding which was used to conduct user tests, and then revamp the UX in response. We plan on continuing to do user tests into the future too.

The current package page will be revamped soon. Our first priority was to get a working version of the new website up, so that we can accept contributions to improve it. Now that we are almost there, we can start to think a bit more about how to improve the package details page. It hasn’t changed in several years, but we are starting to look at these things now.

Australian here, we also drive on the right (i.e. left) side of the road :slight_smile:


#3

@pserwylo, thanks for your kind reply! It covers a lot.

OK, my main question remains: until a better method for ranking and app discovery is found, should I ask for specific app recommendations on this forum? Let’s say an average smartphone user spends most of her time in just 10 apps. These 10 apps are the basis for her productivity workflow (in the better case she configured her device to be a productivity tool, not a distraction tool). These 10 apps should be the best of the best, and I’m having a little trouble gathering them from your palette of 100s? (1000s?) of apps. Is it just me or is it about everyone’s basic problem here?

Oh. It’s basic marketing 101. How much do you know about marketing? Faceless companies don’t sell. Companies with a face and a personality behind them (or more personalities, if that is the case) do. Even if you don’t sell products for money, but free software or ideas, the principle is the same.

John T. Haller of PortableApps.com is a good example. Such as Moxie of Signal. Elon Musk of Tesla. Sundar Pichai of Google. Tim Cook of Apple. And so on. Now there are some less good examples, especially in the free software world, namely Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation and Linus Torvalds of Linux. These two are controversial figures, you either love them or hate them (or in between), but true, they divide their audiences, which may not be helpful for their respective causes. But hopefully you at F-Droid aren’t such controversial figures, so it may be counter intuitive in your position to not have faces for your cause. You say you do well enough, but did you compare how well could you do with this one, little change? :wink:

Quickest and dirtiest to your home page: at least you could display which version of Android is required to run the F-Droid app store itself. :wink:


#4

To bump myself: I still feel my original question, Do you do app recommendations here (on the forum), or how does it supposed to work? is unanswered, or maybe I’m missing something? To give you more context: your app store features quite a few apps, including apps in Alpha development status, Beta status, and apps ready to use in production so to say. Some apps are used by only a handful of people, some are used by many thousands and more. The community sizes and enthusiasm with different apps you offer vary greatly.

So, to repeat myself again: do you do the app recommendation thing here on this forum, or how people should find a great app for their purpose? Am I suppose to open a topic like “I’m looking for a great app for X purpose” and you give me your recommendations on which are the better ones in your selection for my purpose?

Or everyone is supposed to try every single app in your app store for their purpose, in alphabetical order, including apps in Alpha status, Beta status, apps used by a handful people only, and apps used by many thousands? The reason I’m asking is because I don’t see any app recommendation threads here at all. Am I the only one with this (for me seemingly obvious) need? Thanks!


#5

Someone wrote this on Hacker News:

Many people are mentioning f-droid as an alternative to Play Store. I’m sorry, but I consider this a joke. I highly respect the work done on f-droid, but this is not a usable alternative. For instance, you want to save your SMS. We call that backup, but not every knows that. Well you search for “save sms” on f-droid. No result. You search for “save sms” on Google Play Store, the second result is SMS Backup+ which is open-source! You search for SMS, the result is on the first page. Same thing happen if you just search for “sms”, QKSMS (an opensource SMS application) is much easier to find with Google Play Store than f-droid. Even to look for open-source apps, you’re better off with Google Play Store! Again, I totally respect F-Droid devs, this is this way because of their choice of not tracking or saving any user information at all, which is legit. But then, some people might want something intermediary. Just counting the number of installations of an app can be really useful to better sort apps (SMS Backup+ and QKSMS really deserve to be among the top in the results for SMS).


#6

As someone who doesn’t do marketing and ain’t a developer (I code a little, but I guess that doesn’t give me much credentials to speak with confidence about these topics), I like the state in which F-droid is right now. Please consider this as my opinion only, and that I might be wrong or not apt to meddle in this topic.

F-droid is not for everybody and it should stay that way. To my opinion, F-droid seeks to be an alternative, rather than a competitor, for the Play Store (although people consider that a joke). Just as Linux, serves as an alternative to something already popular, and those who wish to embrace it, will have to know what are they getting into and chose to whether live with it or take a step back and continuing using what they were using already.

In this case, F-droid has been embraced by a community of people who wish to no longer have to rely on services that track which apps they are downloading or that tells them what to download based on what place are they in, what website are they visiting or what video are they watching. And the lack of numerical data might affect how the apps are being provided (discoverability, if you may). But again, the people who are sticking with this project have taken their decision. And if they ever stop liking the way the project is doing, they will eventually either go back to use the Play Store or fork the project into another that serves their desires.

Now, that doesn’t mean F-droid doesn’t need to improve. Several things you have already asked/suggested might help the development of this app. And maybe one day this project can be a complete replacement for the Play Services, but that can only be achieved with resources, and continued collaboration.

What you said about the project having a face, I consider it to be wrong (again, I’m only speaking for myself, and I can also be biased). Yes, a lot of popular projects have a central figure, but look at what those companies have turned into. They all have great ideas, but they seek mostly to earn a profit from their users… Now, that in itself is not wrong, That’s why they’re called companies, their main goal and all their efforts are directed to make money. After all, their whole infrastructure, assets and employees depend on the users’ money. But how do we know those companies are not abusing from the trust we’re placing on them? Again, people who have turned to F-droid to use open source alternatives, have chosen to get involved as little as possible (or not anymore) with them because they consider them not to be trustful. As for Linus Torvalds, he only participates in patching the kernel, and does not rule over the decisions the distro developers make on their projects, so I’d call him an exception or an example not fitting with what you want to say.

Regarding the comment you quoted from Hacker News: fuck that guy and his opinion. Would a joke be able to provide Cubans of a viable way to download apps freely and share them with others? The fact that the project is not as popular as the Play Store doesn’t stop it from doing cool things like this one, on the contrary. If someone just doesn’t like F-droid should shut up and stop using it or help improve it. Sorry but that’s how open sourced projects work.

My two cents on how to improve F-droid:

  • Make the users aware of the team of core developers
  • Make the users aware of the community forums
  • Make the users aware that it’s an alternative to the Play Services, not a competitor or a complete replacement, although it can turn into that sooner or later
  • Improve Fossdroid and/or integrate it into the project
  • Improve the documentation for ease of use and effortless migration from the Play Services
  • Create a weekly thread for users to highlight their favorite apps
  • Create a weekly thread for developers to showcase their projects
  • Place a section in the app with the content on those threads (“Apps liked by users this week”, “This week’s highlight”)
  • Hell, even an editor’s pick, if you may

Sorry for the long answer.


#7