Leaving Apple and Google : my “eelo odyssey” – Introduction

In 1998, I created Mandrake Linux, because I was both a Linux fan and didn’t like Windows on the desktop. It’s been a long time, and I’m very happy I’ve been one of the actors who contributed to make the Linux desktop possible, even though it didn’t completely succeed. Since then, the smartphone has emerged. And it’s now a “companion of life” for many of us. On my side, I’ve been using Apple iPhones exclusively, since 2007. The main reason behind this choice is that I like iOS. It covers my needs, it looks great and elegant, and I find it very intuitive to use.

Also, over the past years, I moved from my (Mandrake/Mandriva and then Ulteo) Linux desktop to MacOS. There has been a professionnal reason for that, since I often need XCode for building iOS applications. But also, it’s very convenient to use in conjunction with other Apple devices. I can get my text messages on MacOS, I can answer a call hand-free, I have my notes synced accross my devices.

But talking with friends this year, I realized that I had become lazy and that my data privacy had vanished.

Not only I wasn’t using Linux anymore as my main operating system, but I was also using a proprietary OS on my smartphone. And I was using Google more and more. Search of course, but also Google Mail, Google drive and Google docs. And Google Maps.


I’m not happy of this situation because iOS is proprietary and I prefer Open Source Software. And Apple is getting crazy, with their latest products. Too expensive, not really exciting. It also has some design issues in my opinion. It has become a social act to buy an iPhone: “see, I can buy it”. Buying an iPhone has become a snob attitude and I hate that.

Also I’m not happy because Google has become too big and is tracking us by catching a lot of information about what we do. They want to know us as much as possible to sell advertizing.

Like millions others, I’VE BECOME A PRODUCT OF GOOGLE.

Last, I think that, in the long run, Apple, Google, Facebook etc. business models are harmful for our economical and social environments.

So I want to stop that. People are free to do what they want. They can choose to be volunteery slaves. But I do not want this situation for me anymore.

Reconquer my privacy

I want to reconquer my privacy. My data is MY data. And I want to use Open Source software as much as possible.

At the same time, what exists at the moment doesn’t exactly fit my needs:  of course I don’t want to use stock Android. It’s Google everywhere and its default user interface is bad (my taste).

Also, I’d like to find good online tools such as office, email services etc. that don’t belong to Google.

And I’d like to have the same confort that I have with iOS and MacOS with synchronized services.

I know about a few initiatives, in particular “PureOS” is very interesting and appealing if you want a 100% pure-Free Software. But that is definitely not something I would use daily, at least not in its current state. I need something I could even recommend to my parents or my children. Something appealing, with guarantees for more privacy. Something that we could build in a reasonable amount of time, something that will get better and better over time.

So let’s build something new! “eelo”

My decision is taken: I’m going to build something new that will be open source (as much as possible) and very attractive. At least for me, but probably it could be attractive for a few others as well.

I’ve played with LineageOS for a few months and I think it’s the way to go. You can recompile it, improve it, fork it… and that’s what I’m going to do.

Some nice web services also seem to be viable alternatives to Google apps, so I’m going to explore that and possibly aggregate that into a single service. And offer guarantees to users of this new project.

This is an odyssey, this is a non-profit project

I call the project “eelo” because eels are small fish that can hide into the sea. That’s perfect for my quest of more privacy.

I want eelo to be a non-profit project “in the public interest”. I think operating systems and web services should be a common resource: as I explained a few year ago, this is infrastructure, like phone networks, rail tracks, roads…

Non-profit doesn’t mean nothing will be for sale. Probably some eelo smartphone will be for sale, and some premium services will be available for corporates. But profit won’t be the first focus of eelo.

Eelo will be for users first, for everyone who cares about their data privacy, for everyone who wants to use exciting products, for everyone who wants to join an exciting new project.

So… starting from now, I will periodically post my progresses to release an appealing alternative for the mobile and for web services.

Next time, I’ll show how LineageOS can be hacked, rebuilt and improved for eelo!

If you are interested in that odyssey, as a potential user or contributor, you can register at the eelo.io website.

EDIT: eelo kickstarter campaign is now open!

Also, you can now read Part II and Part III of this story!

— Gaël (follow me on Twitter / on Mastodon)

28 Replies to “Leaving Apple and Google : my “eelo odyssey” – Introduction”

  1. Belle initiative ! J’ai été un utilisateur de Mandrake Linux dès la première version et effectivement, je pense que vous êtes quelqu’un qui a vraiment fait prendre aux distributions (GNU) Linux un cap qui a fait ce qu’elles sont devenues aujourd’hui, Ubuntu en tête.
    J’ai été l’un des premier à suivre Ulteo me disant que là où vous mettriez votre nez, on allait voir des choses intéressantes. Ce fut le cas mais je n’ai pas eu l’occasion d’utiliser cette solution, si ce n’est la toute première démo du bureau déportée dans le cloud.
    Je pense vraiement que Google et les GAFA posent aujourd’hui un réel problème et que des alternatives, bien qu’elles existent, ne sont soit pas assez accessibles, soit pas assez connues, soit qu’elles sont trop limités dans leurs fonctionnalités. Vous êtes bien la personne qu’il faut pour relever le défi que vous vous vous fixez.
    J’espère que eelo sera un succès, en attendant, je vous souhaite beaucoup de courage ! Merci pour ce que vous faites.

  2. You mentioned PureOS from the Librem company but not the Librem5 smarthphone, which is focused on privacy and security https://puri.sm/shop/librem-5/.
    It won’t exist for at least 2 more years, but that could be an interesting starting point.
    But maybe it doesn’t fit in the “non-profit” part of your idea.

    You mentioned lineageOS, but it’s still a custom version of Android. So even if it’s open source, it’s still managed by Google.

    A fork is possible, though. Do you have a plan on that ?

    Another topic is the radio OS that controlled the radio and the phone. Android just run on “top” of it, so it’s still possible to get your private data from this radio OS, even if your Android is clean. Maybe too soon to speak about it, but for privacy, it’s an important topic.

  3. Sure, that’s an interesting point!
    I want to say two things that I will develop in my next posts:
    – eelo is meant as an alternative for as many people as possible, so it won’t be 100% perfect on priacy aspects at first release, but it will be better and better at each iteration.
    – regarding forking AOSP, LineageOS+ is already a fork, but we can handle a full fork only if eelo is able to catch a critical mass in term of contributors and financial means
    – as for non-profit, it doesn’t mean eelo won’t have some business to support the project. But it will never be the goal of eelo to make profits for investors or shareholders and will become a Foundation if we manage a certain size
    Again,I’ll to develop all those points in my next posts and content that will be available at https://eelo.io

  4. Great initiative Gael. I’m not a tech guy, and I have a question in tat sense : is it a tech project (meaning a project for the techs?)? I would like to change my habits, but I don’t want to spend hours learning how to set up a complex system. I want it straight forward… Just to know.
    Nevertheless, I’m interested in it as a user!

  5. Hey Samuel, thank you for your comment.
    The purpose of eelo will be to provide quality and privacy-enabled smartphones and web services to any of us, tech or non-tech.
    With a great UI, something desirable like an iPhone, but more respectful (and less expensive!)
    On the other hand, first iterations are likely to be somewhat geeky ^^

  6. Sounds like a interesting project, I will definitely follow the progress. Do you know Nextcloud? I think this could be a interesting component. It provides a 100% Free Software replacement for many Google services, such as file sync across device, instant upload of your pictures/videos, notes, news reader, calendar and contact sync, video/audio calls, collaborative editing of office documents and many more.

  7. Great project. microG is a way to minimize google’s presence in Android. Maybe you can include that in your LineageOS fork.
    Having it work on existing hardware would be a great step to get traction quickly. For cloud services, syncthing seems the way to go – open source.

  8. I am in agreement with your aims but if Shuttleworth could not manage to do it with Unity, even after the enormous success of the Ubuntu project, it looks like a very hard ask. Why not just revive Unity? It is already half done, and is a perfect opportunity for the right team and potentially world changing. There are already plenty of Unix OS’s but without a way to move onto handhelds they are stranded assets without critical mass. You risk re-inventing the wheel, again. There are a least 3 other teams that I am aware of doing basically the same thing. Competing with mega corporations is no small thing. Even M$oft gave up on it.

  9. Bonjour Gael,

    Projet très intéressant. Des éléments semblant importants de ton propos est le courriel et le stockage souvent exploité par Google, Microsoft, Yahoo etc. Ces services sont gratuit pour les “utilisateurs produits”. A moins de faire payer les utilisateurs, je ne vois pas de modèle économique permettant de les remplacer. As-tu une idée.

  10. @Noel Sure, it’s an odyssey, but I think most projects didn’t get a single point of failure: the lack of applications. It was the same for Linux on the desktop, we fighted for years to try having Windows apps to run on Linux, because users want apps. Therefore on eelo you will get common apps. We are not reinventing the wheel, we’re putting together the best possible alternative, into a global and consistent ecosystem.

  11. @Benoit j’ai un point de vue assez radical sur ce point: le stockage des données aujourd’hui c’est un coût qui tend vers 0. Donc on va le proposer pour un prix qui tend vers 0, et qui sera probablement 0 (jusqu’à un certain point)

  12. To me what I would like to have an Android where you could have full control, where you could manage the root user and be able to configure all the folders in the system, also in which you could have different types of users with more and fewer privileges or permissions , just like in computers.

  13. two point of attention imho:

    1) Office: ODF open formats are a must, and should be have precedence over proprietary docx/xlsx/pptx/… which do not even respect OOXML specifications. For, my preference goes to LibreOffice/Collabora Suite.

    2) HW support: ODG (On-The-Go) USB should receive full support; on actual smartphones is possible to attach extension-devices which offers: {usb connection | usb recharge | hdmi output} but only one at a time of this connections my be in use, which makes them almost unusable: actually is not possible, all at the same time, to attach a TV via hdmi to a smartph, attach to it via a usbhub mouse and keyboard, recharge it via usb.
    All this is instead possible on iPhone via expensive options.
    Such a block may be a commercial choise and not a hw limitation.

  14. I have been thinking along these lines for about 3.5 years now. You are definitely on the right track and your initiative comes at a time when more and more tech opinion leaders are expressing strong reservations about where we stand now with technology and its impact on privacy and society in many areas.
    I would like to put out here the idea I have had of replicating/mimicking as many popular services as possible coupled with insanely strong encryption and bundled into an install image that would run on inexpensive VPS machines.
    The idea is to downsize and disassemble massive social media and services platform and migrate their functionality to small individual virtual servers and allow inter-server authorization tokens so that your server’s Skype look-a-like can communicate with the base of users on your buddy’s server.
    At one point I was thinking of calling this “MyClaude” because “MyCloud” was taken.
    At the end if the day, what I would love to see is my highly encrypted phone talking to MyClaude over my in VPN running on my VPS which would handle all of my web requests and services. I want a Siri look alike and a voice interface to my own mapping and location service. I don’t want anything from Google except a search.
    One benefit of de-centralizing all of this functionality to individual servers is that there will no longer be a handful of fiber intercept points for spy agencies to massively violate everyone’s rights.
    There is grant money available to pursue these goals. I hope you apply and get it.


  15. Seria muito bom.ter um concorrente bom pra que possamos ter mais de uma escolha

  16. Pour commencer, une p’tite histoire dont le titre est :
    Nous avons tous quelque chose à cacher…

    Cela commence comme ça, une sorte de dialogue imaginaire :

    Confidentialité, vie privée et liberté, importance de l’intimité, bla bla bla… ?

    C’est bon cesa, on a compris ; on le sait déjà, « ils » pompent nos infos et nos habitudes de vie. Et alors, où est le problème ?

    Pour autant, suis-je d’accord pour qu’une certaine confidentialité de ma vie puisse m’échapper, être offerte à tous, et donc commentée par tous ?

    Oui cesa, je m’en moque totalement.

    Ok, ok… Laissons les vendeurs de tout et de rien, s’enquérir de nos habitudes de consommation pour mieux nous aider, nous guider, nous manipuler dans nos futurs actes d’achat. C’est la nouvelle loi du marché de la consommation ; comme le chantait Alain Souchon dans « Foule sentimentale » en 1993, « le bonheur c’est d’avoir… de l’avoir plein nos armoires… ». Je sais, c’est un autre débat.

    C’est mon choix cesa ; chacun fait c’qui lui plaît.

    Tiens, un autre titre de 1981… Au-delà de cette remarque facile, il s’agit donc de notre liberté, et au passage de notre intimité.

    Nous y voilà cesa, la liberté, le grand thème philosophique…

    Effectivement la liberté. Que se passe-t-il si notre vie privée, la confidentialité de nos pensées et de nos actes, passent entre les mains d’autres entités qui ne sont pas des vendeurs, mais des gouvernements par exemple ? On tombe alors dans la surveillance de masse, ou aussi le fait d’instiller dans nos p’tites têtes que nous sommes peut-être sans cesse observés. C’est le panoptique du philosophe anglais Jeremy Bentham, qui peut aboutir à ce que nous pensions être surveillés constamment. Paranoïa, sort donc de cet esprit malade. Non, non, ce n’est pas de la paranoïa qui indique elle, un sentiment de persécution. Faites moi plaisir, prenez alors s’il vous plaît seulement quelques minutes pour écouter (sous-titres en français) « l’importance de la vie privée, de Glenn Greenwald », via ce lien :


    Et l’intimité : justement c’est ce qui est au plus profond de moi, et caché des autres. Ce ne sont pas obligatoirement des « mauvaises » choses, comme certains voudraient nous le faire croire. Nous avons besoin de cette intimité, c’est un des droits fondamentaux de l’Homme, car cela fait partie de notre construction d’être humain.

    Tu délires cesa…

    Peut-être oui, ou peut-être non.

    Fin de la p’tite histoire.

    Maintenant, un message plus particulier pour Gaël :
    Gaël, j’allais oublier de partager avec toi mes 3 citations fétiches qui semblent aussi te correspondre au vu de ce que j’ai déjà commencé à lire sur ce que tu as déjà fait, et ce que tu veux encore faire :

    “On comprend réellement ce que l’on peut accomplir quand on trouve le courage d’essayer.”

    “Ceux qui se battent risquent de perdre, ceux qui ne se battent pas ont déjà perdu.”

    “La fatalité triomphe dès que l’on croit en elle.”

    Voilà c’est tout 🙂

  17. Bonjour,

    Tout d’abord félicitations pour ce projet. Cela fait longtemps que j’espère des alternatives à but non lucratif pour ce qui a pris tant d’importance dans la société qu’il devrait relever désormais d’un quasi-service public.
    Mais qu’entendez-vous par “On the other hand, first iterations are likely to be somewhat geeky ^^”. J’avais en effet la même question que Sam le 23/11. Est-ce que cela veut dire que les utilisateurs grand public feraient mieux de rester observateurs au lancement du produit ?
    Bon courage en tous cas !

  18. Like Samuel I would like to ask if your first products will be only for tech savvy persons. I am using Sailfish for a couple of years, for the same reasons as you mention: no google, no apple. It is a nice, simple, elegant OS. Only, if i didn’t have an ipad, it would not be sufficient. (Like you, I think the interface of Apple is best, the app culture of iOS is best. The reliability of Apple products is best, but…the arrogance of Apple is also best.) Since Jolla shrunk into a software company, you only can use this OS if you are prepared to unlock a bootloader of an Xperia and flash it yourself. Not for everybody.
    Two years ago privacysafe Unaphone was initiated. Nothing came out of it. Last year the Librem 5, California. Will be launched in 2019. They work together with the KDE movement.
    I am certain that there is a need for privacy safe phones. Privacy awareness is growing.
    And a good European product would be so nice!
    I think you need an investor, like Qwant got money fom Axel/Springer. Is there no funding possible in the EU ?
    Is there no legal way to escape from the dominance of Google in Android apps? Because this will be a key problem in the future. People are dependent of apps from the surveillance industry. People want to be able to use Whatsapp, Instagram, Telegram or Wordfeud. Sailfish ‘solved’ this by adding Dalvik, but this only works for unpaid apps that often have ads. Despite these depressing words, i wish you good luck !

  19. Bonjour,
    Où ce situ ton projet VS

    Comment sera gerer la partie Radio logiciel (téléphonie brevet)
    A quoi servirais un gsm libre avec une partie radio fermée non libre et donc non sécurise!?
    Autant passer à autre chose comme par exemple le pagres de The things Network (réseau communautaire en progression de 50%pour le moi de janvier(de (2000 à 2700 gateways actifs))

    Pourquoi conserver un smartphone desuét?
    Un modem 4G ddwrt n’est il pas plus pratique?
    Pour moi lineageOS et f-droit font le taf.

  20. Bonjour,
    Ce projet me réjouit beaucoup. Comme d’autres, je cherche à sortir de l’alternative Google-Apple, et la meilleure solution me semble en effet l’Android Open Source Project. mais même si ce n’est pas si compliqué de flasher un téléphone, il est évident que ce n’est pour l’instant pas destiné à tout le monde. Il faut quelque chose de facilement accessible.
    Juste deux petites suggestions :
    1 – vous évoquez la possibilité de mettre en vente des smartphones. Problème : Est-ce que ce n’est pas risqué, étant donné que le marché est déjà saturé de produits, dont certains très bons ? À moins de dépenser des fortunes en R&D, vous risquez de ne pouvoir fournir que des terminaux bas de gamme, qui ne séduiront pas grand-monde. Ne vaut-il pas mieux travailler directement avec des marques reconnues ? (OnePlus, par exemple, a vendu ses premiers smartphones sous CyanogenMod). Et, pour avoir les moyens de séduire une marque, ne vaut-il pas mieux simplifier le processus de flashing, et mettre rapidement eelo en place sur des smartphones de qualité, faciles à trouver à bas prix et avec une batterie amovible (c’est impératif pour des téléphone squ’on achète d’occasion) ?

    2-Autre petite suggestion : peut-être aussi qu’il faudrait mettre le paquet sur la photo. je n’ai pas essayé beaucoup de smartphones sous LineageOS, mais tous les utilisateurs indiquent qu’on perd énormément en qualité photo, parce que les algorythmes de traitement photo libres sont nettement moins performants que ceux des grandes marques. Or la qualité photo est aujourd’hui l’un des points les plus importants pour les acheteurs. C’est un point que vous n’évoquez pas trop, mais ne pensez-vous pas que pour proposer une réelle alternative grand public, il faudrait dépasser LineageOS sur ce point et créer des algorythmes libres, performants et compatibles avec un maximum d’appareils ?

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