Freedombox Kickstarter software released
I am pleased to announce our first FreedomBox software release. The FreedomBox 0.1 image is available here (.torrent) (sha512sum: 867f5bf462102daef82a34165017b9e67ed8e09116fe46edd67730541bbfb731083850ab5e28ee40bdbc5054cb64e4d0e46a201797f27e0b8f0d2881ef083b40).
This 0.1 version is primarily a developer release, which means that it focuses on architecture and infrastructure rather than finish work. The exception to this is privoxy-freedombox, the web proxy discussed in previous updates, which people can begin using right now to make their web browsing more secure and private and which will very soon be available on non-FreedomBox systems. More information on that tool at the end of this post.
What have we accomplished?
This first release completes a number of important milestones for the project.
- Full hardware support in Debian
A big part of the vision for the FreedomBox project revolves around the "Boxs", tiny plug servers that are capable of running full size computing loads cheaply and with little use of electricity. In many respects these are wireless routers given the brains of a smart phone. If you want to change the software on a router or smart phone today you normally need to worry about bootloader images, custom roms, and a whole collection of specialized build and install tools. We wanted to the FreedomBox to move beyond this fragmented environment and, with the help of some embedded device experts, we have managed to make our development hardware into a fully supported Debian platform. That means that anyone with a device can install Debian on it just like a laptop or desktop computer. This support is very important for ensuring that the work we do on the FreedomBox is as portable and reusable as possible.
- Basic software tools selected
There is a lot of great free software out there to choose from and we put a lot of thought into which elements would be included in our basic tool kit. This includes the user interface system "plinth" that I outlined in a recent kickstarter update as well as basic cryptography tools like gpg and a one named "monkeysphere" that leverages gpg as an authentication tool. All of these are now bundled together and installed on the release image. This common working environment will simplify development going forward.
- Box-to-box communication design
Some goals of the FreedomBox can be accomplished with one user and one FreedomBox but many, like helping someone route around repressive government firewalls, will require groups of people and groups of boxes working together. One of our greatest architectural challenges has been finding a way for boxes to communicate securely without so slowing down or breaking network access as to make the system unpleasant to use. We have now outlined and built the first version of our proposed solution: Freedom-buddy. Freedom-buddy uses the world class TOR network so that boxes can find each other regardless of location or restrictive firewall and then allows the boxes to negotiate secure direct connections to each other for actually sending large or time sensitive data. We believe this blended approach will be most effective at improving the security and usability of personal-server communications and all the services we plan to build into those servers.
- Web cleaning
Our first service, a piece of software you can use today to start making your web browsing more secure and private, is called "privoxy-freedombox". This software combines the functionality of the Adblock Plus ad blocker, the Easy Privacy filtering list, and the HTTPS Everywhere website redirection plugin into a single piece of software to run on your FreedomBox. Combining these different plugins into software for your FreedomBox means that you can use them with almost any browser or mobile device using a standard web proxy connection. Because of our focus on building the FreedomBox as part of Debian this software will soon be available to anyone running a Debian system regardless of whether you are using our target DreamPlug hardware, a laptop, or a large rack server somewhere. As you read this packages should already be available in the Raspbian repositories, which is the optimized version of Debian used on the Raspberry Pi hardware. Hopefully we will get that onto the main Debian mirrors over the next month; if you are interested in building it for yourself in the meantime, the source is available from gitorious. As we build additional components for the FreedomBox we will continue to work on making them widely available.
What is next?
As you may have seen, our Project Lead, Bdale Garbee, is about to begin a well earned early retirement from his long time role as Open Source & Linux Chief Technologist at Hewlett-Packard. Over the coming month Bdale and the rest of the Foundation team will be putting together plans for the next stage of FreedomBox development and the road to a 1.0 release. News and updates will follow at freedomboxfoundation.org (rss).