When a new operating system is released, it’s normally met with celebration, a ton of press, and company-sponsored fanfare. Both Apple and Google aren’t shy when a new version of iOS or Android is released. Partners are lined up. New features sell more devices. Essentially, the world takes notice. The same goes for Microsoft when they release a new version of Windows. Microsoft spent an estimated $1.5 billion on Windows 8 marketing. They probably spent at least that on Windows 10. marketing. All this didn’t happen for Google Fuchsia, the new open source Google OS.
When word leaked that Google had dropped code for a new OS on its own code depository as well as GitHub, many people wondered what Google had up its sleeve. Google increased the mystery around the code drop by acknowledging its existence but deciding not to comment on usage or functionality.
Developers have looked at the code in search of clues for what Google might do with it. This week, I want to look at what Google might have in store for the new OS. Of course, this mean I’m speculating, but that’s half the fun.
What is Google Fuchsia?
“Pink + Purple = Fuchsia (a new Operating System)” is the only real description we have from Google. They placed this at the top of their GitHub page for the project. Taking a closer look at the code, we know that it looks to be a fresh start. That means it’s not based on the Linux kernel, like Android and Chrome OS.
Google Fuchsia was built on Magenta, a medium-sized micro-kernel that is itself based on a project called LittleKernel. LittleKernel was designed for embedded systems, much like you’d find on a smart thermostat or smartwatch. Both the developers listed on the GitHub page are experts in embedded systems. One of them worked on Android TV and the Nexus Q projects.
While we don’t know a lot of specifics of Google Fuchsia, we do know Magenta is powerful enough to work on more than just IoT devices. Google’s documentation claims the software targets “modern phones and modern personal computers”, but even this doesn’t tell us a lot. We know when Google refers to phones they mean the latest Android devices such as the Google Nexus or the insanely popular Samsung Galaxy line of phones.
So is Google planning to phase out Chrome OS and replace it with Fuchsia? Nobody knows for certain. Today Chrome OS runs on Chromebooks, which have gained traction in education over the past several years. Google markets them to students as laptop replacements that run everything from the cloud. Whether or not Google plans to replace Chrome OS with another OS is anyone’s guess. It’s difficult to see what doing so gains them.
Fuchsia Runs on Anything
Android is, by far and away, the most popular OS on the planet, running over 50% of all computing devices. Google churns out a new version of Android each year. This powers phones that range from basic “feature phones” to the most advanced such as the Samsung Galaxy Note. This in addition to running on tablets, variants of Android run on TVs, in cars, game consoles, cameras and even watches.
Fuchsia differs from Android in that it also scales up to PCs. Its kernel includes mature features like user nodes and and a capability-based security model, and Android Police notes that it supports advanced graphics along with ARM and 64-bit Intel-based PCs.
Maybe one day Chromebooks will run Fuchsia instead of Chrome OS
It’s hard to imagine that Google would create another OS to battle against Microsoft Windows on the desktop. Unless maybe Google Fuchsia would allow them to consolidate it with Chrome OS and expand hardware support beyond the basic Chromebook. For years, we’ve wondered if Google plans to eventually merge Android and Chrome OS, but Google hasn’t given any indication that’s in the cards.
Microsoft has essentially solved this issue facing Google with Windows 10. It runs great on PCs, laptops, tablets and even phones. It’s interesting that Microsoft has the OS that runs on most devices, but they are not a player in the most important device today: the phone. Apple caught Microsoft off-guard when they release the iPhone. It could never recover from the hundreds of Android devices that hit the market while Windows Mobile and then Windows Phone were trying to gain footing in the market.
Consolidating operating systems sounds like a good move in theory: write once, run anywhere. But it’s difficult to determine if that alone is enough to gain traction with developers. The jury is still out with Windows which has seen massive success on servers, desktops, and laptops. Success has been more elusive on tablets and phones, but there’s still a lot of time to make it work. Apple doesn’t seem in any rush to combine iOS and MacOS.
Google may take a similar approach to what Samsung did with Tizen. They stuck with Android on their most powerful devices, but tucked Tizen into products that benefit from a very lightweight, power-sensitive OS. This strategy makes the most sense to me because IoT are only going to gain in number of devices we have around our homes.
Google has a history of releasing products and killing them before you know it. Remember Google Reader, Google Talk, Google Buzz or Google Wave? Google’s pockets are deep enough to invest millions of dollars and untold resources into new products, only to bury them if they don’t catch on with customers. I was an early Google Reader fan. I spent hours carefully curating my RSS list and researching through blogs organized by Google Reader. And then Google killed it without any real explanation. At this point the only two products I believe will be around in three years from now are Google Search and Gmail!
I mention this as cautionary advice when dealing with any new product from Google. It’s possible that Google has big plans for Fuchsia. Maybe Google will release Google Fuchsia into the open where developers can make it the next Android. But I don’t see Google doing anything to slow the momentum of the most popular phone and OS, so I think it’s more Google replaces Chrome OS.
It’s very possible Google views Fuchsia as merely some experiment. Throw it out there and see what developers do with it. Whatever happens, we’ll be watching because it’s Google, and they can muster the financial backing and resources to insert themselves in about any market they want.