I’ve been using PC’s since the late 80’s, early 90’s. Except for being a traditional user, I’ve had hardly any knowledge on the science and mechanics of computers. 2.5 years ago, I discovered the concept of Free Software; when I noticed a specific proprietary chat application running on my phone started pushing unethical terms and conditions in their license. That was actually how I started digging to see if there was any viable alternative in the market that wouldn’t harm it’s users. After many hours spent on the Internet, I managed to move away from that specific application to a free alternative, one who’s developer was also providing hosting services and I could actually get my family on-board with me. Trying to save myself from all proprietary applications -starting with Windows,- my first installation was a Linux Mint OS. That’s how I gradually met Debian and became very fond of it. In a years time, I had managed (by myself) to move to completely Free Software both on my phone and my PC.
Last year (around mid June), I dreamt of owning a home server that could run on only Free Software. With this, I would gain autonomy from all third party services, strenghten my feeling of self-sustainability and online integrity, while having fun. Nevertheless, I was lacking the computer skills and knowledge to realize such a task. I didn’t even know where to begin. Just out of curiosity, I started digging online (again) to see if there was a way out. That’s when I understood that the Linux on my PC was actually the same software that could run as a server (imagine how clueless I was).
Luckily, I came across Freedombox. Online videos, reviews and tutorials all showed me that it was a straight-forward installation process -one which I was very familiar with through Debian,- and the apps that came bundled all had single-click setups. It could even provide my with an e-mail server that I could keep all my data on my own hard-drives.
Ideally, I wanted to setup a server that would run Free Software on Open Hardware. Though, in my country it’s not easy to achieve such a thing as customs, regulations and the market doesn’t really support you. My options was to utilize an old netbook (which I was really tired of listening to it’s fan noise), or find an SBC that could do the trick. Raspberry Pi was the only alternative at the time - so I went with it. As far as Quixotism goes, I couldn’t fight all the windmills at the same time. So, I ordered my SBC (it was mid September) and 15 days later, when it arrived, I rolled up my sleeves to kick-off.
From my research, I chose to go with an external hard-disk connected to my box. It wasn’t at all difficult, though I did feel a little uneasy at first. But once I had my box connected to my router and I could see the FBX setup page on my browser, the rest went flawlessly. I’ve been using FBX since then (7 months now) and I am more than happy with all I’ve achieved and learnt. With this opportunity, I also want to thank all the developers, creators, designers and all who put in the will, time and effort into this project. I get a fuzzy warm feeling when using any Free Software, feeling that I’m actually a part of a community that has been collaborating for a long time and with good intentions to make the world a better place.
To sum up; here’s how I’ve put my Freedombox to use so far:
- ejabberd: My prior choice of communicating with my friends and family. I have a client on my phone and my PC. I can do audio and video calls, and have small family chat groups. Plus, you don’t need a phone to contact your loved ones.
- Cockpit: Really saves me the hassle of trying to type on a terminal when I’m mobile; especially when I want to check the status of my server.
- Bepasty: Any large sized file I want to share, I can easily upload to my server and send a download link to others.
- MediaWiki: I’ve started collecting my experience with FBX on my wiki site. I share it with people who are interested in self-hosting. I’ve also written a detailed post on my self-hosted blog page. I don’t count who comes to read, but I find it nice to spread the word.
- Minetest: I’ve done some slight tweaks and installed a MineClone game on my server. My son and I really enjoy playing this game together. He’s young at age but it fascinates him when he can play at times I’m not around and that his crops still grow while he’s away : )
- MiniDLNA: Thanks to this app, I can stream my movies to Kodi on my Android TV, and listen to my music though my tablet when at home. A unified media archive that I can stream has really helped me organize and access my stuff.
- Mumble: We use it with my son when I’m not with with when playing Minetest : )
- Email: I host my own email; what more can I say. I even created aliases for stuff like online-shopping, DMARC reports and the like and (with a little help from the FBX forum and FBX gitab pages) have utilised managesieve to sort my mails.
- OpenVPN: I work freelance. It’s really nice to have your laptop connect to your home-server through any wifi network. Not only do you bypass their prying eyes, but you can also safely access you storage and data from a distance.
- Privoxy: I keep Privoxy running to strenghten my privacy. Thanks to this software, I don’t need ad-blockers on my PC.
- Radicale: An excellent app for my calendars and phone-books. I’ve created multiple of these for personal use and work, while one specifically open to my family members. My sons school schedule is there, as well as our holiday plans and events - everyone in the family can read and write to it.
- Roundcube: Becuase I’m not efficient with Postfix, I have Roundcube doing all the sorting, forwarding and filtering for me.
- Samba: It’s very useful if you also want to use your home server as a NAS. I have TB’s of work data that I can easily reach when I need them.
- Shaarli: I never used a bookmarking application before. Now, I’m very used to Shaarly and have no use for any browser specific bookmarking. I can use whichever browser I need, with no requirement to have them sync. I just access my Shaarli page and all my bookmarks are there.
- Syncthing: I keep specific folders on my PC and phone synced to my server. This way, when I need something from one of them, I dont have to hassle with connecting (i.e. turn on PC). It also works like redundancy for my back-ups, just in case something fails.
- TT-RSS: Fantastic app for RSS. I have a client on my phone, and get the feeds there. The browser interface is also nice, I’ve created a webapp just for it. It’s comfortable to have your feeds syncing between your devices. Once you’ve read something one device, it doesn’t show up on the other. Adding feeds, just the same.
- Transmission: My favorite choice for downloading torrents. Thanks to the recent update, I have client apps on my phone and laptop that just ‘work.’ Again, my data is downloaded to my server and I have access all across.
- Plinth: This app has become my home page on both my phone and my PC’s. Thanks to the Wiki guide, I’ve created shortcuts for applications that I installed outside of the FBX bundle and now, I use it as a launcher for all my needs.
Apart from the above, I’ve also installed other applications at my own risk (which all work fine by the way : ) One advantage I find with Freedombox is it doesn’t lock you in. At the end of the day, your server is actually running Debian, so you are always free to tweak and add things if you like. It’s been a great way to help me learn new things on the way.
- Pleroma: I host my own Pleroma / ActivityPub instance. I think the developers have done a nice job of creating an OTP release.
- Apaxy: This is actually just an Apache theme. With FBX, all users get their own web-page. I installed this on mine and I share common stuff with friends when I dont want to take time to upload to Bepasty. Apaxy makes my personel web page look nice.
- Webtrees: A nice geneology application where some of the people in my larger family are contributing to our family tree.
- Hugo: I’ve been using Hugo to generate my blog site. I know there’s Wordpress bundled with FBX but I’m just so used to it : )
- BorgBackup: It’s already installed on your server. I’ve created small scripts to take backups of the data that FBX doesnt have control over.
Well, that was long. I guess I didn’t want to keep it short. One last thing I want to achieve is to create an online photo-gallery that will give specific access to people/groups with password and have the ability to share albums. I have chosen an alternative and will try setting it up after the Bookworm upgrade. If goes well, I’ll be sharing my experience on another post here!
Freedombox has become my online companion, freeing me from all third party services, giving me access to all my data (wherever I find internet) while also helping me learn a lot about computers and software. Again, thank you for everyone making it possible!