Leaving Apple and Google: my “eelo odyssey.” Part 2: Web Services



I’m leaving Apple and Google for those reasons and I’m putting this effort into a new project: “eelo“. For this project, one big part is the operating system, in particular the smartphone operating system. I started to work on this part with others, and had first results that make me feel that maybe my move to a better digital privacy is going to be easier than expected 🙂

But today, a smartphone without internet services would be like a car without gasoline. We need email, we need online storage, we need advanced online applications… Also people like to access our data from several places and devices. The operating system has turned global.

So eelo needs to provide tools that can be accessed from other places, such as a web browser, but probably also from other computers and operating systems: notes, messages, calendar… And of course, we want all this with full respect of the user’s privacy, and no ads.

Many services to address

We need to address a number of internet services and find good alternatives that we can put together into a consistent, intuitive, secure, sustainable and global eelo service.

Here is a scheme of the eelo global system as I have it in mind:

A web service review

– Email

Email means some postfix configuration on servers, with POP3 and IMAP, all with all access secured over TLS. Plus a webmail access (I’m considering to use Mailpile).

iRedMail can set up all that easily, with DKIM and SPF correct configuration, and will even make possible to offer custom domains for the eelo email service.

But if we want a private service, we’ll need security on servers, where emails are stored. That’s a key aspect and we need to apply the best practises for setting up a rock-solid secure server for storing email.

– Search / Maps

I’ve already talked a bit about search in my previous posts. DuckDuckGo and Qwant have become two excellent alternatives to Google/Bing/etc.

But I think we need to set up a generic wrapper for search, like search.eelo.io, and we’ll put whatever we consider to be good behind. That could be an aggregation service as well.

As for maps, there is an awesome and adorable project that is OpenStreetMaps. It’s growing and is catching more and more attention from users and medias as an real alternative to Google Maps.

It also now offers directions and there is a “street view” ongoing project.

We’ll have to integrate it as maps.eelo.io, probably with some customization and dedicated servers.

Of course, all these default settings will be integrated in the eelo ROM (the smartphone operating system).

– Office

We have two choices for a good and open-source Office alternative for online usage: LibreOffice/Collabora and OnlyOffice. My preference goes for OnlyOffice because it’s attractive, efficient and allows realtime online collaboration between several users on office documents.

I’ve used OnlyOffice on my servers for several weeks now, and beside a few glitches, it’s a fully viable alternative to Google Docs or Office365.

– Drive / notes / calendar

The “cloud storage” service is a big and key part of the project. It needs to be very carefully choosen and integrated because it’s going to be at the center of users’ digital life.

There are several projects that offer these features, such as cozy.io, OwnCloud and NextCloud. For now I have tested NextCloud successfully and I must say that it’s amazing!

You can easily set up a NextCloud client on your smartphone, and do the same on other PCs. Then you get all your content synchronized. Very convenient for pictures, documents, notes… I’ve tried on Linux (and Mac) and it works well.

The good news is that NextCloud can also serve a calendar that can be shared/accessed from various devices.

So for now, I’m going with NextCloud. I’m not sure about OwnCloud benefits over NextCloud. Any advice?

The first goal of eelo will be to offer a fully functional and secured implementation of OnlyOffice+NextCloud. As there is a debate about self-hosting, eelo will also provide the service as software instances that can be installed on a user’s server, in the cloud or at home, if they will so.

– Social / Messaging

Of course you are using Facebook. I do as well, not very often though. There is also Twitter. Facebook in particular is a real nightmare in term of users’ privacy. They know a lot about billions users. If you happened to do an advertizing campaign on Facebook, you probably noticed that you can target people categories. Age, gender, place of living, income, … There are dozens criterias that prove that they really know a lot about people.

So Facebook is something we should stop to use in favor of better alternatives. There is a good news: you can use Mastodon. It’s a decentralized social network. Without any central big brother who can use your data to fuel a business model.

The issue is that social networks have a greater value when you can find most of your friends/family there. Which is not the case yet on Mastodon, but in tech communities.

So we’ll keep an eye on Mastodon and see how eelo can interact with the project and possibly integrate it.

As for messaging, everyone will be able to use their messaging app of choice, but eelo will ship with Telegram by default. The reason is that Telegram is probably the most secure messaging app, and also the most respectful of user’s privacy. It also provides quality voice calls over IP. Last but not least, its client is open source (although the server infrastructure is not).

And also…

– ID / translations / …

We will need an identity provider at some point. It will be a central point for authentication. OpenID is an option, although it clearly lacks some momentum at the moment. Brainstorming is needed on this!

While it may be a more minor aspect we’ll also probably need a translation service, voice recognition service, speech service, video/voice streaming services… There are many initiatives in this field, but they are not a priority for now.

About eelo tokens

I’m thinking about releasing eelo tokens, based on Ethereum. It would be a way to get access to some eelo services, and also to thank contributors. Again, most eelo services will be free because it’s the only way to compete against the so-called “free” services from Google, etc., and it will remain in the public interest first. But selling some premium services, high-end eelo smartphones, consulting… will be part of the model to fuel the project and make possible the free services. I have the feeling that using eelo tokens could help a lot to ease service transactions between all the parties involved in eelo.

Next steps for eelo

As we’re continuing the work on the eelo custom ROM, new launcher, and integration of web services, I’m still listening to user’s suggestions about the project, ideas… Many people have already contacted me and hundreds have registered on the eelo landing page, that’s awesome 🙂

We’ll also probably have a separate eelo development branch for more advanced projects. Actually, I’ve been thinking a lot for a while to turn the smartphone into a conversational device — text or vocal — with conversational apps instead of legacy applications. But that’s cutting-edge development and won’t be available into eelo by default.

Next time I’ll unveil a roadmap for eelo products and services and at the same time, the first eelo website is going to open.

I’ll also open a crowdfunding campaign on kickstart that will be used to fuel our early development.

Stay tuned!

EDIT: support eelo early development! Join our Indiegogo campaign and become my patron at Patreon!

— Gaël (follow me on Twitter / on Mastodon)





Software engineer, Entrepreneur: Mandrake-Linux 1998, Ulteo 2006, /e/OS & Murena 2017, Open Source advocate. https://gaelduval.com/about-gael-duval/