(Pocket-lint) - Google has been developing an entirely new operating system that may one day replace Android and Chrome OS.

But here's the thing: it's unclear at the moment what this operating system is intended for, including what devices it might one day officially power. Here's everything we know so far about the project, which is going by the name Fuchsia. The OS could eventually replace Google's existing operating systems as a unified system across all devices, but it's quite early to say that at this point since it's very experimental.

Those existing operating systems are based on existing software kernels, so this would be a chance to start afresh, much like Huawei has been doing withHarmony OS

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.

What is Google Fuchsia OS?

  • An all-new operating system
  • It’s going to probably pivot and morph, Google says

Fuchsia is an evolving pile of code. It was originally added to Google's code depository and on GitHub in 2016. The code is the early beginnings of an all-new operating system.

Crucially, it's not based on Linux Kernel - the core underpinnings of both Android (Google's mobile operating system) and Chrome OS (Google's desktop and laptop operating system). Fuchsia is an altogether different beast.

Here's what Dave Burke, Google's vice president of Android engineering, told Android Police about Fuchsia in 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."

Then, in 2018, Fuchsia developer Travis Geiselbrecht made things more confusing when he said (via a public Fuchsia IRC channel, as spotted by ArsTechnica) that Fuchsia isn't "a toy thing." He confirmed it's not a 20-percent project, where Google developers are allowed to spend their time on things that interest them, nor is Fuchsia "a dumping ground of a dead thing that we don't care about anymore."

Development appeared to have stalled but in late 2020 Google seemed keen to continue work on the OS - it has opened up the development of the software to others and is talking about a second version of key components that make up the software. 

This is a significant step, because it also signals that Google is pressing ahead with plans for Fuschia. 

What does Google Fuchsia OS look like?

  • Compiled Armadillo system UI has a card-based design
  • When running on a Pixelbook, it only shows the time

Fuchsia has already been given an early user interface with a card-based design. The interface, reportedly called Armadillo, 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 devices and operating systems. With Armadillo, different cards can be dragged around for use in a split-screen or tabbed interface.

In a blog post in late 2020, Google's Wayne Piekarski says that "Fuchsia is designed to prioritise security, updatability, and performance" and that it "welcomes high-quality, well-tested contributions from all. There is now a process to become a member to submit patches, or a committer with full write access."

"Fuchsia is not ready for general product development or as a development target, but you can clone, compile, and contribute to it. It has support for a limited set of x64-based hardware, and you can also test it with Fuchsia’s emulator."

What's the point of Google Fuchsia OS?

  • It's just a kernel at this point, so it's anybody's best guess
  • Google is likely future-proofing itself with Fuchsia

One popular 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). However, recently surfaced documents and different bits from the code and UI assets suggest the OS likely isn't a fusion of Android and Chrome OS, nor is it any OS. It’s just a core of an operating system, at this point - a kernel.

Google's own documentation describes the software as targeting "modern phones and modern personal computers" with "fast processors" and "non-trivial amounts of RAM." It also clearly states that "Fuchsia is not Linux." And 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.

As we noted, Fuchsia is built on Zircon, a "medium-sized microkernel" based on the LittleKernel project meant for embedded systems, such as a device that doesn't require a whole OS, like an IoT device. Google's documentation notes Zircon supports user modes, graphics rendering, and a "capability-based security model". This all points to Fuchsia being an OS for IoT, but Google already has 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. ZDNet speculated that it's "not a replacement for what we already have; it's a door to a future we're not living in yet."

Ars Technica

Will Google Fuchsia OS replace Android?

  • A new OS would solve Android's issues
  • But Android is really popular; why reinvent the wheel?

Android still has fragmentation issues. This is caused by hundreds of devices from dozens of manufacturers using different, custom versions of Android - rather than the latest, purest version. Android also has update issues, stemming from the operating system being open source. Google has an annual release schedule for Android updates, but it takes a while for an update to fully flood the ecosystem.

You see, Google gives Android to OEMs and carriers and lets them tinker with it and load it onto random hardware, resulting in fragmentation. Google can't directly push updates to devices if any modifications have been done. Android is also based on Linux, which has been dogged by many legal issues, and the kernel's been completely tweaked, creating a prime environment for bugs and vulnerabilities to grow.

A new operating system and platform would solve all these issues for Google. 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. But, here's the thing: Android is one of the most popular operating systems available. Why would it try to reinvent the wheel with Fuchsia?

Hacker News users have suggested Fuchsia could potentially power augmented reality interfaces.

Writing by Elyse Betters. Editing by Dan Grabham.