Freedombone Blog

Freedom in the Cloud

Freedombone Homepage

One way to get to apps installed on a Freedombone server is to use the FreedomBox companion app on Android. But on desktops until recently there wasn't any equivalent to that.

Now there's the Freedombone Homepage, accessible via http://freedombone/home


The homepage looks similar to the apps screen within the admin section, but here clicking or pressing on icons takes you straight to the URL of the chosen app. You can set http://freedombone/home, or the equivalent onion address in a Tor browser, to the home page in a web browser for maximum convenience.

Also unlike the admin section of the web interface, which requires a password to log in, any user on the server can access the homepage.

There is a search bar for doing web searches, and the hope is that this helps to encourage you to get out of the habit of always using Google.

Freedombone in 2019

2018 has been a fairly significant year for the project. Interest in decentralized systems and education about the problems of large silo systems has been increasing. Mainstream criticisms of Sillicon Valley companies which began to be reported in 2017 became more trenchant. There were continuing purges against disfavored demographics or particular topics of discussion.

Freedombone, and self-hosting projects like it, are becoming more relevant over time.

Probably the most significant changes to Freedombone this year have been the move out of Github and the introduction of the web interface. The web interface takes the project from being hacker grade to something which potentially could be a mass market product pre-installed on hardware. Some plans for the remainder of the year, and into the new year are:

Transition to buster

2019 is another Debian release year and version 10, nickname "buster", will be in freeze early in the year with the expectation of release some time in the middle of the year. Once it goes into freeze then I'll start on a new buster branch of Freedombone. If things are similar to the last release then it will take one or two months to make a new version, depending upon how big the changes are.

Rock64 build

It's probably possible to make a fully free software build for Rock64. I assumed there would be blobs in the boot sequence, but upon more investigation it looks like that isn't the case and it can all be built with Free Software licenses. As usual there might still be proprietary 3D graphics, but for a server that's not needed.

More apps

With the Debian 10 release it will be possible to enable more apps, such as those which require more recent php or python versions. One example is PixelFed.

Web interface polish

Improving the translations. Adding warnings screens. To make something really usable requires laser-like focus on interface minutiae, including things like color contrast, making sure that things are phrased in a comprehensible way and that the flow between screens is as semantically coherent as possible.

Your homepage

Add a web interface screen which can be set as a browser home page, allowing you to quickly navigate to any of your installed apps, and also do web searches. integration

The model seems like a good one, with a foundation as a legal mechanism and crowdfunding of network infrastructure. This would be a good direction for the internet to go in, where it is neither run by corporations nor by the government but instead run by and for its users. It would be nice to have an easy way to set up Freedombone as a node.

Website Icons

A few tweaks have been made to the index page of the website.

Image description

Information about the mesh version now has its own icon and the Patreon icon has been removed so that there are two rows of four icons. The icons have also been made not so overwhelmingly gigantic. This makes the site look better on a small mobile screen in portrait orientation. The Patreon link has been moved into the FAQ.

Muted words

It's still experimental and not very well tested but I've been adding a new feature to the blocking screen of Freedombone which allows for messages containing certain words or phrases to be blocked. Twitter has this feature and calls it "muted words" and there's a similar capability within the Pleroma interface.

As an example, maybe I don't want to see anything containing the phrase "Black Friday" or "blockchain". There has been so much blockchain hype in the last year that posts on the topic are just another eye-rolling event.

I'm also expecting that as the fediverse becomes more popular that it will also become more adversarial with a greater amount of spammy posts. This type of word based blocking, combined with the existing domain/address blocking might help to mitigate that.

Tweaks and improvements

A few recent improvements to the Freedombone system.

XMPP server

The version of Prosody has been upgraded to 0.11.0, also with a corresponding update of the community modules. It looks like Prosody is gradually becoming more compatible with the Conversations android app and including the needed XEPs by default.

Some changes have been made to minimize the occasions upon which Prosody needs to be restarted. Restarting the daemon often seemed to break PEP. The upgrade to 0.11.0 may also help this situation because it has a more recent PEP implementation.

App installs

When installing an app there is now a progress bar shown. Previously there was an install and pray approach in which once you had got past the confirmation step you just had to hope that the app would show up some time later. This removes that ambiguity.

Added EteSync

A new app for synchronizing calendar and contacts across devices.

Added Zap

Zap is like Hubzilla, but with some features removed so that it's specialized as a social network system rather than a general web publishing system. It uses the latest version of the Zot protocol.

Better app icons

Previously the icons for apps had been added rather hastily and some of them looked quite blurry. The icons have been updated so they now have better resolution.

Fixed amd64 images

There was a catastrophic bug in the amd64 images which was preventing them from installing properly. This only applied if you were installing from a USB drive. At an early stage in the install the USB bus was being reset, which obviously caused dire problems and data corruption. That should no longer be an issue and the downloads have been updated.

App help screens

These have now all been added, although currently most of them are very basic. There's scope to make the help on these screens more comprehensive.

Pi-Hole on Freedombone

The ad blocking system called pi-hole has now been integrated with the new web based user interface of Freedombone. This blocks ads at the DNS level on your home network. It's not perfect and doesn't block all ads, but it does help to improve the user experience and speed of browsing the web. One thing I notice in particular is that it doesn't block ads on YouTube, and that Google has been adopting devious ways to avoid ad blocking by using randomly generated subdomains to serve advertising content from.

For a long time I didn't really care about ads and the internet didn't depend highly upon them. Then I distinctly remember the occasion in 2007 when my web browsing experience went from having discreet banner ads which I didn't care about to having actually offensive ads shoved in my face in a highly disrespectful manner. From that time onwards I started using browser based ad blockers, and then eventually pi-hole.

Pi-hole has its own web based user interface, but I've made no attempt to integrate that into the Freedombone web UI. That's because it requires logging, and from both a security and a performance perspective I'd rather avoid any additional unnecessary logging. If you're running on a microSD card then writing the minimum amount of things to disk is important because I/O bandwidth is low and the disk itself wears out eventually.