Posts Tagged ‘open source’

CatLog jives with Jelly Bean, goes open-source

CatLog

CatLog is an app I’ve always been immensely proud of. I wrote the initial version in the span of a weekend, and yet it grew to be my second-biggest Android app, after the now-defunct Pokédroid. Even though it’s a pretty esoteric app, and nobody except developers will find it very useful, I’m glad I could contribute something valuable to the Android community and help make Android development a bit less of a pain. It’s cool to see fan-made instructional videos on YouTube and all the forum posts where people say, “Just download CatLog and send me a log report.”

But lo, all is not well in CatLog Land. As of the newest version of Android (4.1 Jelly Bean), Android apps can no longer read each other’s logs using the READ_LOGS permission. You’re limited to your own logs, unless you’re a system app or you gain root privileges. Uh oh.

Now, this is a defensible position on Google’s part. After all, there was a pretty high-profile security hole found in the Facebook Android SDK due to developers carelessly writing sensitive information to the system log. And in general, most apps don’t need to read each other’s logs, so the change is understandable. Stay in your own sandbox and all that.

This change is going to have a big impact on certain varieties of apps, though. Not only will it affect log-reading apps (like CatLog and aLogcat), but also apps that rely on log-reading in some way. For instance, you can say goodbye to the various “app lock”-type programs that rely on reading the system log to determine when other apps are being launched. If you don’t believe me, check out the permissions page for those apps. See where it says “read sensitive log data”? That’s the death knell for these types of apps, unless somebody figures out a smarter way to detect when another app is launched. (My own AppTracker works in the same way. So it’s toast as well.)

So what does this mean for CatLog? Well, in the future, it means it will only work on rooted phones, which basically limits its appeal to developers and root-happy techies. Until now, it had also come in handy for end users, since it gave them a way to easily submit bug reports (in cases where, for whatever reason, the default reporting mechanism wasn’t available). But starting with Jelly Bean, CatLog will require root access, which means it’s basically worthless for Joe Android User now.

So given that this is more or less CatLog’s swan song, I’m taking a pretty radical step with it. I’m open-sourcing it. Yep, CatLog is now free to remix and re-use, released under the ultra-permissive WTFPL license, just like my other apps.

Why such a permissive license? Well, because I honestly don’t care. CatLog was always a free app, and although I’m grateful for the nice pocket change I make from the donate version (about $20 per month), I doubt open-sourcing it will affect the donations much, and anyway the app was never about making money for me. So there’s really no reason to lock down the source code. I mean, yeah, there are already some copycat apps out there that stand to benefit, but they’re not really doing anyone any harm hanging out in sixth or seventh place in the search results. CatLog’s main advantage is its reputation on the Google Play Store.

On the other hand, if you do want to re-use CatLog’s code, the only thing I ask for is attribution. Sure, the WTFPL doesn’t require it, but this is just one of those “don’t-be-a-jerk” requests.

I have another strong reason for wanting to open-source CatLog: I’m bored of it. Frankly, I haven’t been able to give it much attention lately, because I think 99% of its useful features are finished, and everything that’s left is just flourishes and fine-tuning. It needs a facelift and probably some tweaks to the filter syntax, but with the enthusiasm I’ve shown for the app lately, I’m obviously just not the one to do it.

Also, I find myself turning away from Android development in general. I started writing Android apps when the system was still in its infancy, with only two phones available – the HTC Dream and the Magic. I found it a lot more fun when Android was still simple and untamed, when the market wasn’t flooded with glitzy, polished apps all competing for users’ mind-share. Back in those days, you could even write a simple Pokémon app with an ugly UI and people would love you for it. Development was easy, and the exposure was fun.

Nowadays the Play Store is much more crowded, and Android development is more difficult in general, what with supporting hundreds of devices with multiple form factors (including tablets), and multiple Android versions stretching from 1.5 Cupcake to 4.1 Jelly Bean. The APIs have grown incredibly complicated, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve discovered bugs that only appeared on a certain Android version or on a certain phone. It’s a huge headache trying to maintain all this compatibility, which is why I still haven’t updated any of my apps to the new “Holo” theme from ICS.

However, my lack of enthusiasm shouldn’t limit CatLog’s potential. When you’ve lost interest in a software project, I think it’s your duty to make it open-source, so that somebody else has a chance to grab the baton and run with it. And that’s exactly what I’m doing with CatLog. So if you have any features or bugfixes you’d like to write, fork me on GitHub and go nuts!

App Tracker and Chord Reader go open-source

I recently open-sourced two of my Android apps – App Tracker and Chord Reader. You can find the code on GitHub.

I open-sourced them for very different reasons, although the catalyzing events were similar. In both cases, I had a request from a fellow dev for more information about the app, which made me question why I was keeping it closed-source in the first place. And in both cases, I couldn’t find a good reason to keep the code private.

App Tracker

But in a broader sense, the two apps mean very different things to me. App Tracker was a project that I poured a lot of effort into, but which turned into an unmitigated failure, with only 294 active users (and less than 4,000 downloads) after almost two years on the Android Market. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit now, but at the time I was writing it, I actually thought App Tracker would be my ticket into doing freelance app development as a full-time gig – hence the laughable premium version. Ultimately, though, the app suffered from bad design and bad marketing (can you guess what it does from the name and icon?), and it never really took off. So in this case, opening up the source means acknowledging my failure and cutting my losses. It’s a humbling moment.

Chord Reader

Chord Reader, on the other hand, was an app that I barely put any effort into, and against my expectations became pretty successful, with over 35,000 downloads (and 10,000 active users) after about a year. It’s even made me a modest amount of money from the AdMob campaign (about $100), although I put in the ads more out of curiosity than anything. I never really found the time or interest to keep maintaining this app, though, so it ended up becoming something of a neglected stepchild to me. There were lots of requests for new features (autoscroll, set lists, bluetooth integration), but for some reason I just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to implement them. So in this case, opening up the source means releasing my app to the community, where hopefully it will find more dedicated contributors. It also means getting rid of the ads (since there’s no point in having ads in an open-source app), which I’m actually relieved to do, because they weren’t making me enough money to justify uglifying up the UI.

Of course, a lot of code gets open-sourced, and a lot of it gets lost in the abyss of endless cyberspace. There’s no point in making a big show about releasing this code without explaining a bit about why anyone should bother looking at it. So here’s my brief run-down:

App Tracker reads the system logs (“logcat”) in a background Service and notes when other apps are being launched, which allows it to keep usage statistics. It should be interesting for anyone looking to write an app to detect when a third-party app has been started (which was the question from a fellow dev that prompted me to open-source it). For instance, all of the various “protect my apps with a password” security apps use this technique. Be forewarned, though: these methods are faulty, given that the Android OS treats with suspicion any Service that tries to run 24/7, and may kill your Service without warning.

Chord Reader reads chord charts downloaded from sites like AZChords.com and UltimateGuitar.com, parses the text, and displays information about the chords, including various guitar fingerings. The most interesting part is the system of regexes (really, a grammar) to parse the chords and determine, for instance, that “Abmaj7” and “G#M7” both mean the same thing: “A-flat, major quality, 7th added.” A good place to see this in action is the unit tests. Music geeks should get a kick out of it. And of course, anyone who just wants to contribute to the project (like the dev who first contacted me and suggested open-sourcing it) is welcome to create branches and pull requests on GitHub.

Oh, and in case I haven’t made it clear elsewhere, when I open-source something on GitHub, please assume that the license is the WTFPL license, or some other very permissive open-source license. I honestly don’t care what you do with the code, although hopefully you’ll be nice about it and give me credit. Happy coding!