In 2016, Google started working on a new project called Google Fuchsia. It is said to be one of the most promising operating systems of the future that will run not only on phones or PCs but also on many other devices and thus providing one common platform for everything from tablets, to wearable, up to smart home devices. Many rumors and questions are hovering over this new Google operating system. In this article, we will satisfy your thirst about what is known so far in this early stage of development.
What is Google Fuchsia?
Google Fuchsia is a new operating system on which Google is currently working on. It is a modular open source project that first appeared on the GitHub repository in August 2016 and later got moved to Google Git for the source code.
It is an operating system that includes and extends the functions of Android and Chrome and is suited to run on all devices from Google like phones, tablets, laptops, connected appliances, smart home devices, and more. Currently it runs only on suited hardware (Acer Switch 12, Intel NUC, Google Pixelbook and a few others) or in an emulator.
Fuchsia has its own developer website, Fuchsia.dev, to teach developers about Fuchsia OS with searchable content. Amongst other things it contains documentation about the source code and its special kernel and can also be installed on mobile devices.
Why not Indigo, Lime, or Maroon, but Fuchsia?
Well, let’s go back to when we were children and mixing colours. What is the best way to get Fuchsia? Right, we combine Pink and Purple. Also, Google officially tells us about this equation on their project homepage fuchsia.dev: “Pink + Purple == Fuchsia”. Okay, next question: Why Pink and Purple? Pink was the code name of Apple’s first effort to create a new operating system from scratch running on the basis of a microkernel (which actually failed). And project Purple was the project that ultimately resulted in the first iPhone. Having the same goal like these earlier projects, Google is now aiming to build a completely new Google operating system based on a micro-kernel called Fuchsia OS.
What does Google Fuchsia look like?
We were able to get a glimpse on a variety of demos of the user interface of Google’s mobile version of Fuchsia OS, called “Armadillo”, during its testing phase. This UI could be run on Android as a Flutter app and thus we were able to see it on a Pixelbook. It convinces with a clean layout with the typical Google-shadows. The wallpaper seems to be rather a real view instead of a two dimensional picture. All windows, boxes and buttons are placed in particular layers. Also a desktop UI with codename “Capybara” was under construction.
Unfortunately, the code of this layout got removed from Fuchsia’s Git repositories, for good. Instead, now there is only an interface meant for developers to test applications, not the final user interface any more. The “true” user experience is now being developed in a closed repository by Google. As 9to5google.com states, there seem to be at least three new user interfaces being developed: “Dugonglass”, “Dragonglass”, and “Flamingo”. But as there is no access to the code we have no idea about how Fuchsia looks like currently. We can only assume that it might be in some kind similar to Armadillo with its profile card containing a profile picture, date, time, location, and some basic settings on the home screen. Above it the running apps were displayed in the new task manager with its innovative functionalities. We will have to show some more patience in waiting until we might see what Google will create here.
What is novel about the new Google operating system?
First of all it is unique that the same OS will run on all smart devices and connect them with an exclusive cross-device seamless user experience. This is possible due to the “Ledger” system that stores everything in a cloud. You will just have to sign in your Fuchsia device into your Google account and Ledger will automatically present all your installed apps just like you have left them, even on another device, which makes working across different devices possible.
Fuchsia has not only native support for Flutter apps but will also run Android apps using Android Runtime. This can provide a smooth transition from Android to Fuchsia.
Its graphics rendering engine “Escher” specifically supports the shadows that lets the interface appear in the typical Google-Material-design and gives the interface an appearance of immense depth. This also works for animations, media applications, and games.
Fuchsia comes with a new multitasking app management: Above the home screen the apps are shown in windows and can easily be put into split-screen mode or sorted into tabs and many more patterns, all while running simultaneously.
The new Google operating system has an advanced search bar and the intelligent Google Assistant will fetch information from all user on-screen activities, running apps and anything else automatically. This will make it intelligent to such an extent that it will be able to gather all available information itself to perform a specific task it gets asked for, e.g it will make an entry into your calendar for the date and amusement park you have in mind when you only say “Okay Google, schedule family trip” after visiting the website of a park and then going to the calendar to check for a free date.
To avoid that users can fracture the operating system or that it is constrained by licencing terms, like it is the case with Android and Chrome OS, Google will intend to fully govern its open-source platform of Fuchsia. That way Google will have full control over their new OS, even when it will develop further at the customer-level or will get distributed by partner companies.
Last but not least, Zircon, previously known as Magenta, is the micro-kernel Google is using for Fuchsia. A kernel is the root code that controls most of the OS. The system kernel that Android and Chrome OS use is way different from the micro-kernel from Fuchsia OS. The former ones are based on a Linux kernel that got heavily modified. To time, Linux kernel is most used to make a system work on various platforms. But now Google is crafting this micro-kernel that perfectly fits its purpose as it is developed completely new to serve with the optimal functionalities. It is making Fuchsia universal, flexible, and efficient through the possibility of consistent Upgrades, blocking applications from accessing the micro-kernel, avoiding problems due to incompatibility of apps with OS updates, and an extra security layer.
We all expect our hardware to be small, full of functions and especially fast. And that is why this new micro-kernel and Fuchsia have high chances to lead on the list of operating systems of a new era.
Development of the Fuchsia OS with Flutter
Flutter, a software development kit, is used to write the user interface and apps of Fuchsia. It enables the development across the platforms Fuchsia, Android and iOS. That means that one app can be developed here for all platforms. Adding the fact that it supports so many programming languages it will make it easy for developers to develop apps for Fuchsia.
Flutter seems to support several programming languages that include C/C++, Dart, Rust, Go, and more. Thus both Mozilla’s and Google’s system-oriented programming language are represented in the initial line-up.The preferred Android programming languages Java and Kotlin are missing in the list. By the way, Fuchsia is explicitly designed for programming language diversity so that developers of all backgrounds can contribute to this project. Most of these languages can even interoperate with one another. That means that developers have more of a free hand while choosing the best suited language for the specific task and can even mix for example one language for the user interface with another language for the backend.
A special role is played by the Fuchsia Interface Definition Language (FIDL), which was developed specifically for the description of protocols for Inter-process communication (IPC) rather than for stand-alone programs. Because of the micro-kernel architecture, IPC plays a major role, and FIDL is intended to ensure that communication is efficient and reliable and can be easily implemented.
Will Google Fuchsia replace Android and Chrome OS?
According to 9to5google.com, Fuchsia seems to be in the last stage of internal testing and that could awake the slight hope that it may be made accessible for developers in the near future – if intended so by Google.
Is Google planning an ultimate new Google operating system for all devices? There undoubtedly is evidence that Google is putting a lot of effort into its new OS:
- A Fuchsia developer wrote a message in the public Fuchsia chat room that Fuchsia “isn’t a toy thing, it’s not a 20% project, it’s not a dumping ground of a dead thing that we don’t care about anymore” what implies that Google is putting real effort into this project.
- In February 2019 Nick Kravelich, former head of Android platform security, switched to the Fuchsia team. This shows that Fuchsia is pulling experienced professionals on itself.
- As Flutter is the primary software development kit for its app development, Fuchsia has very close ties to Android and iOS. This should make the transition quite comfortable.
- Apple’s senior macOS engineer, Bill Stevenson, posted on LinkedIn that he joined Google to help bring Fuchsia to market.
- Google Nest Hub (known earlier as the Google Home Hub) is built on Flutter and thus seems to be eligible to be one of the first devices that may run with Fuchsia OS.
But what does Google itself say to the rumors, that Fuchsia OS might replace Android and Chrome OS? After a long time of closed lips from Google’s side regarding Fuchsia OS, it was expected that they might talk about this project as part of I/O 2019. And so it happened: Hiroshi Lockheimer, the Google SVP of Android, Chrome OS, and Play, revealed the mysterium around the official purpose of the new Fuchsia OS in an interview, but not to everybody’s full contentment. As Google obviously invests a lot of money and other resources into the development of this new OS, we are questioning if and when it will be made publicly available. Lockheimer said that Fuchsia OS is an only internal project for testing purposes to modernize and try new concepts. And he really downplayed the rumors that Android or Chrome OS will be replaced by Fuchsia OS as he again stated that they are doing experiments and investments to learn more about new technologies as many different kinds of devices need operating systems. But still some might ask themselves, why should Google invest that much into developing a complete new operating system with no intention to use it fo profit and just for testing some ideas? As it would not be the first time that a technology concern acts differently than it said before and maybe Google just not yet has a specific plan we will have to wait and see if and when and on which devices Fuchsia OS will eventually be brought to us.
Now you have an idea about the new Google operating system called “Fuchsia” that appeared unannounced in 2016 on Git. This open source OS is currently being developed and has the potential to run on all smart devices, from Laptops to smart home devices. It could provide a unique platform with continuous user experience across all devices. It offers great functionalities like a multitask app manager with split screen mode and a more than ever intelligent Google assistant. What makes it unique is that it will run with a micro-kernel called “Zirkon” that is built from the ground and will give it never before seen universality and flexibility. To date, developers do not yet have access to it and the few examples of how it might look like obviously have been removed again by Google so that we can only speculate about the new user interface. With Flutter and many possible programming languages it will be easy for developers to work with Fuchsia and also the transition from Android to Google’s new OS should be relatively painless.
But will Fuchsia replace Android and Chrome OS and if so, when? This question can not be answered right now. Even though there is a lot of evidence that Fuchsia is getting significant support and could become the biggest cross-device OS Google officially states that it is developed for internal testing and learning and not meant to replace Android and Chrome OS.
Nonetheless, we are excited to see what Google will make out of its new Fuchsia OS and when and in which form and on which devices we will come face-to-face with it.