Google seems to be developing an entirely new operating system.
But here's the thing: it's unclear at the moment what this operating system is for, including what devices it might power. Here's everything we know so far about the project, which is currently going by the name Fuchsia. Keep checking back, however, as we plan to update this piece over time with the latest reports, rumours, leaked information, and, of course, any and all confirmations.
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Google Fuchsia: What is it?
Fuchsia is an evolving pile of code. You can find it on the search giant's code depository and on GitHub. The code is supposedly the early beginnings of an entirely new operating system, though Google has yet to confirm those details. Interestingly, it's not based on Linux Kernel - the core underpinnings of both Android (Google's mobile OS) and Chrome OS (Google's desktop and laptop OS).
Here's what Dave Burke, Google's VP of Android engineering, told Android Police about Fuchsia in May 2017: "Fuchsia is an early-stage experimental project. We, you know, we actually have lots of cool early projects at Google. I think what’s interesting here is its open source, so people can see it and comment on it. Like lots of early-stage projects, it’s gonna probably pivot and morph."
Google Fuchsia: What does it look like?
Fuchsia has already been given an early user interface with a card-based design, according to Ars Technica, which posted a video and images of the yet-to-be-announced software. The interface is reportedly called Armadillo. It was actually first discovered by Kyle Bradshaw at Hotfix.
Unlike Android OS or Chrome OS, both of which are based on Linux, Fuchsia is built on Zircon (formerly Magenta), a new kernel created by Google. Meanwhile, Armadillo is built in Google’s Flutter SDK, which is used to create cross-platform code capable of running on multiple operating systems. With Armadillo, different cards can be dragged around for use in a split-screen or tabbed interface.
The cards even appear to offer up Google Now-like suggestions. Unfortunately, there's not much else to go on.
Google Fuchsia: What's it for?
The current school of thought is that Fuchsia is a new OS that could unify Chrome OS and Android into a single operating system (something that's been heavily speculated since 2015). Reports have claimed that OS will release in 2017. That said, Google's own documentation describes the software as targeting "modern phones and modern personal computers" with "fast processors" and "non-trivial amounts of RAM."
Fuchsia is also built on Zircon, a "medium-sized microkernel" based on a project called LittleKernel, which is meant for embedded systems, such as a device that has a specific purpose but doesn't require a whole OS, like a router or watch. Also, the two developers listed on Fuchsia's GitHub page - a senior software engineer at Google and a former engineer on Android TV and Nexus Q - are well-known experts in embedded systems.
Furthermore, Google's documentation notes Zircon supports user modes, graphics rendering, and a "capability-based security model". Although all this points to Fuchsia being an OS for Wi-Fi connected gadgets, Google already has an IoT platform called Android Things. Also, Ars Technica has compiled the Armadillo system UI, and it seems like Fuchsia is intended to be a smartphone or tablet OS.
There is also a confirmation from devs that Fuchsia is not merely a toy thing at Google. If we had to speculate, we'd say Google has a specific goal in mind for Fuchsia that it's keeping totally secret for now (or at least until it's more real and can be made official). On the other hand, maybe Google's just tinkering around or future-proofing with Fuchsia.
Google Fuchsia: Will it replace Android?
Possibly. Android is riddled with issues that Google has yet to address. First, there's fragmentation caused by hundreds of different devices from dozens of manufacturers using different, tweaked versions of Android rather than the latest, purest version. Second, there's an update problem. Google has an annual release schedule for Android updates, but it takes about four years for an update to fully flood the ecosystem.
Although many of these problems are related to Android being open source - which means Google gives it to OEMs and carriers and lets them tinker with it and load it onto random hardware, resulting in fragmentation, as Google can't then decide to push Android direct to these devices if any modifications and tinkering has been done - another problem is that Android is based on Linux.
Linux is dogged by many legal issues - and subsequent licensing fees from Android hardware OEMs eat away at profit margins. The Linux kernel was also not originally designed for smartphones and IoT devices, and yet the kernel's been completely tweaked and loaded onto those devices, creating a prime environment for bugs and vulnerabilities and security issues to grow.
A new operating system and platform would solve all these issues. It wouldn't be shackled by pricey patent licensing deals. It would be safer, built, and optimised for today. It could also be modular and be truly unified, meaning it would work across many devices. Google could even begin licensing it to hardware developers, solving those fragmentation and update problems. But, again, who knows.
Google Fuchsia: What about Andromeda?
Google was reportedly once working on a Pixel laptop that would merge Android and Chrome OS. That device was codenamed Andromeda. Instead, Google announced support for Android apps on Chrome OS, rather than an entirely new operating system. Now, some people and reports are speculating that Fuchsia could be a successor to the Andromeda project that never came to fruition.
Google Fuchsia: What else could it be?
Hacker News users have suggested Fuchsia could be designed for augmented reality interfaces.
Google Fuchsia: Are there any other clues?
Nope. But the top of Fuchsia's GitHub page does say "Pink + Purple == Fuchsia (a new Operating System)".
Google Fuchsia: Why is the code public?
As for why the project/code is out in the public and thus was able to be discovered in such a low-key manner, Brian Swetland, one of Fuchsia's listed developers, reportedly explained: "The decision was made to build it open source, so might as well start there from the beginning."
Google Fuchsia: Which devices now run it?
There are a couple of devices listed in the Git with which developers can deploy and run the OS. Swetland revealed Fuchsia is booting reasonably well on small-form factor Intel PCs and an Acer Switch Alpha 12 laptop. Deploying Fuchsia on a device requires two computers, a host, and a target device. The USB boot process also needs developer mode on Chrome OS and, oddly, "will be destructive” to the USB device.
Chrome Unboxed reported that Google has now released documentation to allow developers to load Fuchsia onto the Pixelbook. It’s still very much early days still, but it's interesting that Google is allowing Pixelbook to experiment with Fuchsia, which has mostly been linked to embedded systems and small-form factor Intel PCs and Chromebooks. You can find a Fuchsia-deploying tutorial on how-to commit.
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