Google recently unveiled a new operating system project called Fuchsia, described on GitHub as “Pink + Purple = Fuchsia (a new Operating System).” Firstly, it might be confusing and surprising to think about the fact that Google are developing a new operating system, and secondly, it might be even more confusing to learn that Fuchsia is not based on Linux. Linux has become one of the world’s most important platforms and all of Google’s other operating system platforms are based on Linux. Fuchsia is something of a departure. The new operating system may be trialed on a device based around either an ARM, Intel, or virtual computer and the team are working on porting it to the Raspberry Pi in order to see how well it performed in very limited hardware. The new operating system runs on a newly developed Magenta kernel, which itself is based on the Little Kernel project. In other words, the platform is looking like it will be developed entirely in-house at Google. It’s too soon to say if it will be a “better” platform than Linux, or more efficient.
Fuchsia uses Google’s own Dart language and is being designed for “modern phones and modern personal computers.” That sounds like the Android platform, which Google has already successfully reworked for other types of platform (such as Android Auto, Android TV and Android Wear) and is based on Linux. However, Fuchsia can also be run on embedded devices, such as the billions we are expecting to join the internet as part of the Internet of Things revolution that’s right around the corner. This sounds like Google’s Brillo platform, which is essentially “Android Lite” and could at a stretch be included in the list of sub-Android operating systems above. Are Google planning on reinventing the Android platform into Fuchsia? Or are they planning on combining Android and Chrome into Fuchsia?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and let’s first take a deeper look into Fuchsia. Fuchsia is more than a simple low powered operating system designed for simple devices. It has mature operating system functionality including advanced graphics, 64-bit processing support and, importantly, a capability-based security system. The fact that Fuchsia has these features and isn’t based on Linux, a constantly developed, open source platform that has been adopted the world over, is interesting. It also points out that Google has perhaps realized that Android cannot be the platform for absolutely everything, even though the plethora of Android-based platforms might suggest otherwise. There are good reasons why Android is central to Google’s computing strategy – over a billion reasons residing in the Google Play Store as it happens. It is no surprise that whilst Google is committed to keeping the Android and Chrome OS platforms separate, it is keen to integrate certain Android features on the Chrome platform and the Play Store was one of them. This is likely something that Google will look to replicate with Fuchsia in the future.
Microsoft is a business that has changed its mobile platform ambitions in the last couple of years. In 2014, Microsoft pumped time, effort and money into a number of mobile operating systems from Windows CE to PocketPC to Windows Phone before finally deciding that it wasn’t able to compete from a platform perspective, and switched its focus to providing great quality applications and services that could run on whatever computer hardware and platform the customer was using. That’s why we can use Microsoft Office 365 on anything from an iPhone to an Android tablet to a Chromebook to a Windows 10 desktop. Google have a similar approach from some perspectives: yes they have saturated the smartphone market with Android, but their revenue generation is predominantly from advertising revenue, which relies on the Google services. Android is a means of delivering these services – especially search – to customers such that the company can sell this information. It doesn’t matter if a customer is using a Windows 10 laptop, Macbook, or Chromebook to search Google, the information derived is still worth something to Google. Fuchsia drops right into this line of thinking as another means of delivering the Google services to customers.
One of the golden rules of computing is that one doesn’t pick the best platform based on hardware specifications, memory, chassis color or charging port, but instead one should pick the best platform to run whatever applications that are needed. To look back at the console wars between Microsoft and Sony, it doesn’t matter if the Xbox is a technically superior product if one wants to play a Sony-exclusive title, such as Gran Turismo – you need to use the Sony hardware. Google’s Fuchsia project may well be about bringing a “better platform” to a certain type of device to allow customers to access Google’s services. In order to do this, Google will need to ensure that Fuchsia is compatible with everything people love and use about Android and Chrome OS. That may simply mean ensuring that third party applications can run on the new operating system. In the short term it could mean a form of emulation and in the longer term it might mean developers building a universal application, similar in some respects to Microsoft’s plans with Windows 10.
It is too soon to say how the Fuchsia platform will evolve and when we might see devices running the software, or how it will compete or complement the existing Android and Chrome OS platforms. Details about Fuchsia are still limited. The new operating system might be a core part of Google’s ultimate long-term plan to resolve the fragmentation and update issues inherent with Android by incorporating a similar update scheme as we see with Microsoft’s Windows operating system: Fuchsia could be backwards compatible with the applications and services customers the world over have come to love with their Android devices, but running over a different technology. In 2016, it seems difficult to believe that Fuchsia could simply take over from Android, but in 2006 it was difficult to believe that the Android platform would take over from Nokia’s Symbian smartphone platform.