Interview with Francisco Franco, Developer of the Franco Kernel (Part 2) – OEMs, Kernel Improvements, Custom ROMs & More!

Interview with Francisco Franco, Developer of the Franco Kernel (Part 2) – OEMs, Kernel Improvements, Custom ROMs & More!

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the man behind one of the most popular Android kernels ever, the Franco Kernel. Currently, the kernel is available on many different devices, including various Nexus & OnePlus devices and the Google Pixel / Pixel XL.

In this part, we talk about Francisco Franco’s opinions on OEMs and some changes in the Android kernel, his future plans and a bit of his personal life.

There have been reports of SDCardFS issues, like you’d see them around the forums and I’m just wondering do you think it’s down to OEM implementation, like do you think the actual system is fundamentally sound and the issue is OEMs?

No no no. I think when the first issues appeared, like big issues, if I remember correctly they were on the OnePlus 3T maybe, yeah they were using a, like,half-baked SDCardFS implementation that wasn’t even finished. I don’t even think the Google Pixel version is 100% finished. According to the Android team, the guy that was talking about this on one of their podcasts, said they were still finishing stuff and OnePlus was using like a half year old version it was just meat work, it wasn’t finished. So that’s asking for trouble, I guess.

Ah okay, yeah I remember seeing stuff like files not being deleted without having to reboot, and if that’s down to the OEM implementation then yeah.

Google has a common kernel tree, with all the work that they are doing to support that common tree, and then the OEMs [and] manufacturers such as Qualcomm take that common tree and build their patches on top of that, and then the OEMs get the trees from the manufacturer and then they work their specific hardware patches on top of that. So you’re already on a third layer and you probably have like a half-year-old drivers most of the time, when the device ships and the SDCardFS that they were using was very old, so I think that was slightly irresponsible from them to do that. On my own my kernels, every time I’ve had to I’ve made a change so that everyone wouldn’t use SDCardFS so that this wouldn’t happen at all.

Seeing as you said it’s slightly irresponsible of some OEMs to do that, what would your favorite OEM be in terms of developer support and just general polish?

Google. It’s not even a contest, if you can count them as an OEM. Other than them.. Maybe OnePlus? Maybe now it’s better? I think? Maybe? I think so. I’m here thinking, I’m looking at all my devices.

The hundreds of devices right in front of you?

I have… one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen
devices here!

Jesus Christ.

They are mostly Google devices, couple of OnePluses. No, Google is the best hands down, it’s not a contest.

Ah okay! Well, which currently have you been working on the most recently? Like have you kind of picked up one and just decided “this is fun and I’m working on this for a while now”, or is there something about the devices that draws you to one more than the other when you’re developing for it?

Mmmmmm, not really. I guess if I start merging patches for the Nexus 6P, I then go to the Nexus 5X and probably go to the OnePlus 3 and 3T, and now with the [OnePlus] 5 being kind of new I took a couple days to try to understand what was happening what was needed .When I’m on the Nexus 5, I go to the OnePlus One and then the OnePlus X maybe. I think that’s probably it. I don’t decide I’m gonna wake up one day and decide “that’s the device I’m going to work on today”. I go to the forums, read what people are saying and then try to see what others have been doing and try to get tips from Google and Qualcomm and try to keep things synced together I guess. But… maybe lately I’ve been focusing a little bit more on the OnePlus 5 for sure, the Nexus 6P, the Nexus5X and the OnePlus 3 and 3T.

Would you have any, advice I guess, for any aspiring kernel developers or like what’s been the most important skill for you as well as a kernel developer?

You have to read a lot, and I claim to know almost nothing compared to others. I guess read a lot and be prepared for long nights and if you actually want to maybe learn something really deep, choose a subsystem and try to dissect it and try to build something for that subsystem and then go from there. Maybe the scheduler one.. if I was to do that now, I would try to just study the task scheduler from the kernel and try to understand what was happening there, but it’s very deep, very complicated. Make changes and just see them happening and read a lot. Subscribe to a lot of mailing lists from actual Linux and read, read a lot for sure.

Have you ever thought about development on the actual Linux kernel? Like let’s say you’re on the actual Linux kernel yourself, trying to merge patches look into that kind of thing.

Hmmm not at all. I don’t have time for that! It’s a lot bigger, and to do that you need lots of different parts of hardware to actually test stuff. I guess there are so many different developers that actually know what they’re doing. I have no place in there.

Has custom ROM development ever interested you?

Pfft, not at all. It’s kind of boring! Of course I’ve compiled Android a couple times, but it takes so long to compile and it’s very boring. All the custom ROMs you see on XDA… like 99% of them are just copying patches from one another and just adding an app here and another app there, or changing some colors and then they are happy that they made some changes, and after all they didn’t do anything. So I have paid no attention to that. I mean — I mean the guys from Lineage, the former CyanogenMod, those guys know what they’re doing. They actually do more than just make apps. I guess now the Paranoid Android guys are doing something good of course, but I haven’t been paying very much attention to them. The others, don’t ask me about them either, I really don’t care about ROMs.

Would you have an opinion on Paranoid Android? I know you said you don’t really care, but would you have anything to say about them if you’ve even looked at their source code or commit history or whatever?

I remember when they started, I remember what they’ve done, the things they achieved back then before you had any idea of themes or colours or… the old pie controls were awesome. I respect them a lot, and there are a couple still there that I know they know what they’re doing. I don’t know what they are doing right now, so I cannot comment on anything I guess. If anyone is listening try them out I guess, but I really have nothing to say. I never pay attention to ROMs anymore. I guess I’m happy that they’re doing something now. I hope they get to monetize what they’re doing somehow, like licensing or working with other OEMs. I hope so! They also did that with the first Oxygen version for OnePlus… I hope they monetize! I guess if you’re doing this, you hope you make some money out of it because working with Android, like any other platform in the world, takes time and you have to eat and pay bills like anyone else. I hope they monetize. At least something, they deserve it.

Find a way to make a living out of it.

It’s hard, but at least for ROMs it’s hard. But I hope they do it somehow, or consulting. There are always some OEMs that needs help with something. Those minor OEMs that don’t have the budget to hire 100 guys to work on stuff. I guess that’s probably something they can offer but I’m not going to give that sort of suggestion because I don’t know myself but I guess that’s it.

Do you have anything big in the works?

I spend most of my time working on apps, more than anything. After 6 years of patching kernels here and there it gets tiresome after a while, because most of the devices right now just ship with something that’s good enough or stuff that I did before is now already there. It’s also all sorts of troubles sometimes to flash a kernel. For the Google Pixel for example, it took me a long time trying to to get it out, because of their A/B system. The OnePlus 5 as well took like a week to even boot it for stupid things.

For the Google Pixel for example, it took me a long time trying to to get it out, because of their A/B system

After SELinux changes too, you get tired after a while. I still got a kick out of it and I have no intentions to stop because I also have other apps to monetize on top of it, so I would be stupid to just let it go. I have lots of users and I also owe them that because without them I wouldn’t be here, so it’s still a challenge but it will be less of a challenge as the time goes by because because of the changes the OEMs are making to their kernels, and Google as well. I suspect in two, three, four, four years maybe we wouldn’t be able to do what we do right now because of the security changes and it’s getting harder to crack. I suspect three, four years maybe I’ll be out of business in these things, haha.

Do you see it as an attack on developers, or is it just a security thing?

No no no, just security! There’s no attack whatsoever. I’m not a big conspiracy theorist.

Ah yeah exactly, I’ve seen lots of people think it’s an attack on developers and all that.

No, not at all. They just want what’s best for the platform and therefore the platform is having a tightened security, and if that’s what they need to do, they will do it! And we are just a small niche, so if we suffer and it’s good for the platform then I don’t care. Because the platform has so, so many, so many users around the world and I’d rather have those half a billion users enjoy security and being safe from attacks. I don’t mind if I lose my job I guess.

Do you have any other applications in the works,or any ideas for applications or are you working on improving your current ones that you have?

I pushed a new app a month ago. I think XDA wrote about it, it’s called Gratus. It means “gratitude” in Latin. It’s an app, almost like an offline social network, where you remember stuff that you’re grateful for in your life and you post them there, and then you get reminded every time you unlock your device through a notification or widget and you just get a big smile every time you unlock your device. Imagine, on average a person unlocks their device around 100 times a day, so every time you unlock it if you see a positive message that you yourself wrote… like imagine you’re grateful for your cats or your grateful for some food you love or someone in your life or some event. I mean, it just gives you a big smile and I think in a world that’s so crazy right now and sometimes so negative — if you get a little kick out of your own positivity and gratitude I think it will help lots of people. The app is free, and has a small enough payment that unlocks all the features, but it already has a lot of different pictures for the free version. I guess everyone should try it.

I have lots of other apps, little tools for example yesterday I released a new version of my app called “NapTime” that improves the way Doze works on your device. Previously, it was just for rooted users. Since yesterday, it works also for non-root users.

I have other apps too, like the kernel app. It’s one that gave me all and I still give it too much attention and I’m working on a better version, so I’m always busy.

Always something to do and keep you going!

Haha, yes.

Well I guess there’s only one more question really, which is I guess if you have any other hobbies? Anything else you would spend time on non computer-related or programming-related.

Well as probably any other normal person, I’ll watch a lot of movies, I love cinema, I love watching quality movies. I like to read a lot and I’m not a pretty socially awkward guy, I am fine socially but I prefer to be alone and left alone.

Ah, so kind of an introverted kind of way?

Uhhhhh, yeah if I can I’ll spend spend a week at home alone, by myself just playing games and cracking stuff. I spend a lot of time with my girlfriend of course, but it’s mostly enjoy everything that you can enjoy that life gives you. I’m a pretty happy guy, I don’t have that many expectations of crazy stuff to go out every day or jump off a cliff. I just really want to be left alone and hack stuff and enjoy Android, watch a good movie and read a good book, play a good game I guess. I’ve a pretty normal life.

Well I guess that’s everything I have for you then and I guess good luck in the future!

Thank you so much I always look forward to give these interviews, I hope I was informative enough for anyone who is reading!

Check out Part 1 by clicking this button!

About author

Adam Conway
Adam Conway

A 21-year-old Irish technology fanatic in his final year of a Computer Science degree. Lover of smartphones, cybersecurity, and Counter Strike. You can contact me at [email protected] My Twitter is @AdamConwayIE and my Instagram is adamc.99.