Exclusive Interview with Guntram: Lead Developer of a popular custom deGoogled Android ROM called LeOS

We have talked about custom Android ROM in past and I know you do get excited about deGoogled ROM like me. I know a lot of you have already known and experienced the benefits of deGoogled or Google-free ROMs. I recently got to know about a deGoogled Android ROM called LeOS that I came across while going through the pages of a forum for another popular custom degoogled Android ROM.

The name of this ROM is ‘LeOS’ only. You can read more about it at https://leos-gsi.de/

Although, the name itself doesn’t mean much. It is just a fantasy name according to the official website itself. It is maintained, build and developed by a German national who goes by an alias of Guntram on Telegram and other online resources including forums etc.

The website might be a little dated, but LeOS is super up-to-date, so guys, do not judge a book by its cover.

LeOS-R is based on PHHusson AOSP GSI / current version. LeOS-Q is based on Lineage 17.1 with Andy Yan patches.All versions are ‘de-googled’. This means that the OS itself does not send unwanted data to Google Server. LeOS-R + Q are vanilla versions, so without any Google Play Services. Gapps do NOT work in LeOS. As a Google Play Services replacement, MicroG is integrated.

One of my friend has tried it for a long time on a Fairphone device and it works beautifully for him. The response is positive and so is the community and the developer himself.

I personally happen to know or come across the developer in a forum but frankly I did not know he was actually working on this project for a good amount of time now. I reached out to him and conversation was really friendly and I ended up interviewing him to introduce the project LeOS for our beloved audience.

Following is the unedited, verbatim and exclusive interview with Mr Guntram that happened over Telegram this week:

1. What can you tell us about yourself, how you got to where you are today, and your role at LeOS?

My Name is Guntram, I was born in Lower Saxony/Germany in 1956. After 13 unsuccessful years at school, I was fired without a degree.

In 1971 I started an education as a merchant, which was successfully completed after 2 1⁄2 years. After that I worked in various jobs. For example, as a private investigator or office supervisor.

In 1980, I moved to a large American company and worked there as a traveling salesman. I have been a paraplegic since a car accident in 1982 and switched to the office. There I worked in the IT area until 2016. During this time I introduced and developed standard software in various areas. I also worked on various European and worldwide projects. My tasks also included user support for Germany and later for the whole of Europe and teaching trainees.

In 1983 I got married and in 1993 my son, of whom I am very proud, was born. Since 2010 I live alone and in 2016 I emigrated to Vienna, where I currently live. My interest in computers began in the 80s with a C64, on which I wrote my first programs with BASIC. It continued with a TurboPascal distance study, which I quit shortly after. At the end of the 90s I started with Linux and in 2010 I started to compile and test Android ROMs for an Indian startup. In between I was beta tester for AOL and Microsoft Network and Mircosoft Windows/Office.

In 2017/2018, I learned on Kickstarter about the Mandrake developer who wanted to bring a Google-free OS to the market. My interest was piqued, as I was hoping for a Mandrake for Android. But unfortunately it only became a LineageOS fork. Nevertheless I helped the startup with user support and started to create Android ROMs for them. Since the project was going in the wrong direction, I started to develop and distribute my own Android OS – LeOS.

2. What significant value does a de-googled Android ROM like LeOS bring to an Android based smartphone?

As we all know, the big players are spying on us. One of these big players is google. It monitors every step you make and watches which web pages you open. All your private data collected on your phone by apps google wants to have. Every time your phone connects to the internet via wifi, google stores your location. In LeOS all the google server calls have been removed. This means that google does not get any location information or data from you and you are again the master of your data.

3. Some users esp. young users, flash custom ROM on brand new smartphones for privacy. What is your thought on this?

It’s not just young people who do this, old people like me do it too. Unfortunately, there are still far too few of them. I wish more young people would be more sensitive with their data. When I see how many (young) people still use apps that collect their personal data, such as Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and the like, it makes me dizzy

4. How does full disk encryption work on Android? How different is it from GNU/Linux? Do you find it as secure as on GNU/Linux?

Oh, sorry, I never dealt with that. That’s why I can’t say anything about it. My hard drives are all encrypted, but I don’t encrypt my phone. This is because I very often reflash the operating system and always make a backup before. Unfortunately, a cell phone backup only works with not encrypted devices.

5. What are your views on Librem 5 and Pinephone? Do you think devices like these are headed towards a truly open hardware based smartphone?

The idea of these devices is good. I myself have a PinePhone. But unfortunately these devices/systems are still far away from mass suitability. The users want an app for every little thing. And for Android or iOS there are billions of apps, for Librem or PinePhone the app availability is too low. That’s why these devices won’t catch on, unfortunately.

6. Why do you think postmarketOS or any other linux distribution for phones didn’t fly like Android? How does the future look like?

I think I have answered that in your question before.

7. Being an active part of the community, I saw you pro-active member of /e/ community, I heard you left. What happened?

That’s a long story. From my side of view, the e.foundation is on the wrong way. The founder just wants too much at once. He starts more and more new ‘projects’, but none is really finished. And what I think is totally against the e.foundation’s philosophy is the eOS Apps Store. The idea was good, but the implementation was totally wrong. How can an OS that is designed for privacy and where it is preached ‘My Data is My Data’ offer apps in its store that spy on the users? Why are there google apps in the eApps store. eOS wants to be degoogled, so the apps store must not offer google apps. This is just an example of many things. The e.foundation has unfortunately changed the focus, because today it’s all about making money, so all energies are put on the ePhones and the cloud services. The OS itself is moving more and more into the background. And if I just look at the Fairphone3. the eOS-Q version has many bugs and many users have problems with eOS on the FP3 (you only need to look at the forum). LeOS-R, Android 11 runs without bugs on the FP3. I am alone and manage that, the e.foundation with many developers does not manage that. Therefore, I do not see a great future for eOS.

8. What are your thoughts on paid custom Android ROMs like CopperheadOS with locked bootloader, verified boot and protection against zero-day? Do you think they are worth the cost?

I don’t think so. OK, some business people would use this, but for the ‘normal’ people it is not needed . If you want relock the bootloader, buy a FairPhone3. There you will be able to relock. But the issue is, that for OS updates, you have unlock the bootlader again and your data will be erased.

9. What are your views on life cycle accessment (LCA) and planned or programmed obsolescence by OEMs and tech giants?

This is criminal and should be punished. When I read about it, I get really angry. For environmental reasons alone, something like this must be banned.

10. What kind of smart-phone do you use as your main daily driver?

My daily driver is a Xiaomi MiMax3. I’m a old guy and I need a big screen. And I like Xiaomi very well. Good hardware for less price and a good ‘used market’. I only buy used devices. It’s better for our environment.

11. Do you find young people more educated or worried about privacy, encryption and security of data or someone your age?

Yes, people need to be made much more aware of privacy. No matter at what age and on what system. Whether PC or laptop or cell phone, no matter what OS, it should always be paid attention to privacy.

12. What is your favorite desktop OS and why?

I’m using PureOS. it respects my privacy and it’s Debian based. Debian is the most stable Linux Distro … for me.

13. What is your favorite email client and IM/chat software/service for Android?

For my private Emails I’m using a subscription on Protonmail. For all other Email accounts I’m using K9. The only messenger I’m using is Telegram. I have hosted my own Matrix server and used it with Element, I have tested Signal and Threema and some more. But for me, Telegram is the best one.

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