24 March 2014

FreedomBone: A Free Communication Center Linux Bone

I was developing my WSPR-Bone and had to fight with memory and storage problems when a new project appeared out of the depths of the internet: "How to turn the BeagleBone Black into a FreedomBox-like personal communications server". That sounded interesting so I contected the develper Bob Mottram and this was the start of another adventure in BleagleBone Land:


The first thing I noticed, that all the goodies would be installed on a SD-card. So this was a way to go. I could let my WSPR-Bone system rest in the eMMc memory and follow the ideas of Bob on an external card.

To make it short, in this project you will install on a BeagleBone Black a complete communications environment four your personal use. Of course you can invite your friends to participate and with a little bit of luck and effort you can also implement this Linux system, based on the Debian distribution on other hardware. (But this will take some time ;-)

I will not renarrate the goals of the project. Here is the masters voice and it is well done:
Today many of us rely upon "free" services in the cloud, such as Gmail, Facebook, Google+ and so on. It might appear that these services are indispensable infrastructure of the modern internet, but actually they're not strictly needed and the amount of value which they deliver to the average internet user is very marginal. It is possible to be a citizen of the internet and yet not use those things - to disintermediate the most well known companies and cut out their prurient or merely cringeworthy business models.
This indeed not just another bag of Linux goodies, it is a well thought out system with its emphases on:

  • privacy
  • encryption
  • development
  • communication in every possible way
Bob Mottram has put a lot of efforts to protect your freedom of information and make it very hard for others to look into your data. Of course, if there is a will, ...

My motivation for starting that long and winding road was another one. I live for so long in the internet and use these free services that it is impossible to hide my ass. I made sometime the decission to use the Google services. There are a lot of very good people working there and they know their business better than I will ever do. But Bob offered a way to learn how things can be done the "good" way. I had never used or set up a GPG-key nor a protected  Email system. So it seemed for me a good way to start and learn.

I have a problem here. It is too much to describe. I would need to write a whole book. So what do you get when you follow the FreedomBone?

  • Random number generation
  • Web-Server
  • NTP
  • Spamprotection
  • Firewall
  • Email client and server
  • GPG Key
  • (encrypted) Mailinglists
  • Blog
  • IRC server
  • Jabber/XMPP server
  • Social Networking systems
  • Gopher
  • Owncload
  • Bitmessage
  • ...
The list is nearly endless. I must confess that I never heard about a lot of programs which I did install, just to see how they were integrated and worked. I must confess additionally, that a lot of the services were foreign land to me and will stay. The reason: Most of my friends hardly use a computer not to talk about Jabber, social networking systems, ... but that perhaps might change when they follow the paths of FreedomeBone.

The description follows a step by step installation. This is sometimes mandatory so that e.g. the email system will use the encryption implemented. When sources are on the web, you will find the links to them. When there is no precompiled source for the armhf architecture Bob has done that for you and you will find them on his page (with link). So you will have no trouble finding the relevant sources. AND: All worked right out of the box ... if you do it right ;-) The source code seems to be faultless. When I had problems they were produced by myself. You will do the installation from a remote host only via ssh and you will be looking for a X-window system in vain. But this has also advantages. You do not need to retype the commands. You can copy and paste them and you will make no typos.

The description is sometimes very sparse when you don't know what the software you install is going to do. But I have heard that you have access to the internet and you can google the necessary information.  The only complain that I have is: The page is too long and when you want to reread a previous section you have to scroll through the whole page. The menu from the beginning placed on the left side would have helped a lot.

And when you don't know what is going on, you will find on github a sort of mailing list where you can post and Bob will answer or correct the problems.

All in all: Very well done!

I followed his proposals in most points but as it is supposed to be a personal communication system, I installed at an early point a LaMp with Wordpress and Tiny Tiny RSS for my other system went down days ago.

So the BBB is running only attached to Electricity and the Internet like a charme. Of course some things still have to be done but all in all I have a secure system which I could not have implemented by my own.

So if you have a little knowledge about Linux, a BeagleBone Black and some time, give it a try. It's worth the effort.

And now for something completely different: Concerning my memory and storage problems on the WSPR-Bone, Bob gave me a tip: CubieTruck. So that will be my next project and meanwhile my BBB will stay for the time remaining my own FreeDomeBone.

Once again!

Stay Tuned!