Google is working on a new operating system that could change computing forever.
What is it?
Fuchsia is Google’s third stab at an operating system following the success of Android and Chrome OS. Although it’s still in the early stages of development and Google is keeping tight-lipped over its intended function, strong evidence suggests it will run on both mobile and desktop devices and could even replace Android and Chrome OS. Only time will tell if this is true but it’s certainly getting tongues wagging.
When was it announced?
The only accompanying description was: “Pink + Purple == Fuchsia (a new Operating System)”, which was immediately seized upon by tech blogs, some of which went as far as claiming that it could be the future of computing.
What do we know about Fuchsia?
We know it’s open-source and is being distributed for free. It’s also a ‘real-time operating system’, which means it processes data as it comes in, thereby slashing processing time requirements. Interestingly, Fuchsia is not being built on Linux as Android or Chrome OS are. Instead, the new operating system uses a microkernel called Magenta, which has been developed by Google itself.
A kernel is a core component of an OS, controlling how software is processed by a device’s hardware, which suggests that the web giant intends to use its own building blocks this time around.
What’s so special about this kernel?
It is based on a project called Little Kernel, which was designed for software that powers computers with a specific function, such as items that comprise the so-called Internet of Things (thermostats, lights, routers and the like).
This gives some idea of the direction in which Google may be heading. What makes matters more intriguing is that Google has confirmed that Magenta is designed for phones and fast-processor PCs. This had led to speculation that Fuchsia will be an all-encompassing OS that can be the engine for just about anything.
But why is Google ditching Linux?
It is not ditching Linux in general, just for Fuchsia. Perhaps one reason is that Android is using outdated versions of the Linux kernel – the recent Google Pixel smartphone, for instance, uses version 3.18 even though this was released almost three years ago – that’s an eon in technological terms.
It’s understandable that Google wants to keep its products as up-to-date as possible and the only way to truly control that is to start from scratch with your own building blocks.
So Fuchsia could be in competition with Android?
Google experimenting with a completely new OS suggests this is at least possible, although it could just be a replacement for Android. As we’ve said, Fuschia could become an all-rounder phone, tablet, computer and Internet of Things OS.
What does it look like?
When Fuchsia first emerged, it had a command-line interface, which meant it could only respond to typed commands such as cd, cp and echo. Development has moved quickly and Fuchsia now has a user interface called Armadillo. It’s being dubbed
“the default system UI for Fuchsia” and there’s already enough to give you a good feel for the system. It has a vertical scrolling list of apps, as well as a card-style design similar to Google Now.
A profile card has your details and opens to reveal lots of settings such as battery life, Wi-Fi.
How much of an improvement is it?
There are some nice early touches, such as the ability to run split screen apps. By pressing down on an app window, you can drag it over another and then decide which one appears at the top or Bottom of the screen.
You can have as many as four apps on the screen at once, which
will facilitate multi-tasking and improve productivity. Throw in suggestions feature seemingly inspired by Google Now, and the beginnings of a new keyboard, and you have the makings of something rather exciting.
Will it use apps?
It certainly will. Apps will be created via Google’s Flutter
Software Development Kit (SDK), which is already being used to make cross-platform apps for Android and iOS.
Flutter itself is an alpha, an open-source project that was used to create Armadillo itself, so the framework is already there for seamless app creation. When Fuchsia is officially released, app developers will surely clamor for a piece of the action.
When will Fuchsia be released?
That’s the big question. The truth is that no one other than the brains working for Google can tell you the answer and, as we’ve said, they’re maintaining an air of mystery over the project. It may emerge that Fuchsia is simply a testing ground for a user interface that will never see the light of day on mass-market phones, relegated instead to a side project that runs alongside Android and ChromeOS. But Fuchsia developer Travis Geiselbrecht told the public Fuchsia IRC channel that the operating system “isn’t a toy thing” and he stressed that it will be worked on for some time to come. One thing’s for sure – you won’t see the fruits of Google’s labor appear on devices being sold this year.
Can I not test a preview on my current phone?
If you download and compile the Fuchsia System UI into an Android APK, you can install it on an Android device. It’s not worth doing this on your current handset because, at this point, there’s not much you can do with it.
A better idea is to check out the Flutter Gallery app, which you can download from Google Play (Check here). This shows widgets and behaviors built with Flutter that at least give an indication of how Fuchsia apps will look.