A decade ago Google was just a search engine and advertiser, but now it’s the driving force behind the largest computing platform in the world: Android. Even the slow-to-start Chrome OS has been picking up steam in recent years, dominating the budget laptop market. Both these products are based in part on Linux, but Google is working on something completely new, and you can take a peek at it on Github. It’s an operating system called Fuchsia, which could run on just about anything.
Google and many other companies make use of the Linux kernel for a variety of reasons. The robustness of features is certainly part of it, but it’s also freely available under the GPL license. Anyone can use the Linux kernel in a project, provided they make the open source components available to end users and developers. So, what about Fuchsia? According to the GitHub page, “Pink + Purple == Fuchsia (a new Operating System).” Google’s mysterious new Fuchsia OS is based on a completely different kernel known as Magenta. This is a microkernel, which itself is based on a different project called LittleKernel.
The intended use for Magenta was as part of an embedded system like you might see on routers or set-top boxes. It seems that Google wants to use it for more than that now. Magenta is designed to be lightweight, but it can scale up to be the basis for more powerful systems. Google’s Fuchsia page notes that the project is targeted at “modern phones and modern personal computers’ that have fast processors and lots of RAM.
Building something open from scratch gives Google much more freedom to make exactly what it needs. The Linux kernel has been around for about 25 years and is used in all manner of applications. Many developers have contributed code over that time, and as a result it’s a little ungainly. Many of the security exploits found in Android these days are actually faults in the Linux kernel. Google is testing Fuchsia on a variety of devices like Intel NUCs and Acer laptops. There is also support for the Raspberry Pi 3 on the way. Google is currently using a system called Flutter for the interface and Dart as the programming language.
But what’s Google going to do with Fuchsia? It’s possible Google management isn’t even sure. This could just become another abandoned project before it has a chance to replace anything. Still, some have speculated that Google could see Fuchsia as the next step for Android, Chrome OS, or both. Migrating to a new platform probably means breaking compatibility with existing software (or emulating it in some way), so this is not something to be done lightly. Perhaps Fuchsia is something completely new for Google — a robust full desktop OS alternative to Chrome OS. Whatever Google has planned for Fuchsia, nothing is changing at the moment.