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Fuchsia – Google’s Latest Operating System

Ekam Walia | IECSE

Since its inception by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1998, Google has been synonymous to innovation. Google has developed a reputation for creating state-of-the-art products and redefining boundaries in technology.  Alongside many innovative products and services, Google competed in the smartphone industry with the Android Operating System in 2007. Almost ten years later, Google is back with a new operating system known as Fuchsia.

Prior to Fuchsia, Google has developed two other major operating systems: Android (for mobile phones, tablets, and smartwatches) and Chrome OS (primarily used in Chromebooks). With Fuchsia, the possibilities are vast. It is a universal OS that can operate all devices including embedded systems, mobile phones, personal computers, and even television sets. Since there has been no official statement from Google explaining the purpose behind developing the OS, there are a lot of speculations based on evaluation of the codebase by various media outlets.

The Fuchsia operating system is different from Android and Chrome OS. Unlike Android and Chrome OS, which work on the Linux Kernel, Fuchsia is based on the micro-kernel Magenta – a small operating system for embedded systems. The Linux kernel has powered a majority of Google’s products but Linux is not suitable for small scale applications or embedded systems such as car-infotainment units, smart watches or traffic lights.  However, the Magenta engine (being developed by Google based on its Little Kernel project) is designed to support such embedded systems while simultaneously developing the power to support much more complex devices such as mobile phones and computers. This capability of powering a vast range of devices has given rise to speculations that Google is trying to develop one Operating System that surpasses the rest.

The primary language being used in the development of Fuchsia is Dart (Google’s in-house open-source programming language) as well as some parts of the codebase written in Go, C, and Rust. The features and apps for Fuchsia are developed using the Flutter SDK. Flutter is a software development kit which offers high performance for apps, up to 120 frames per second. It also supports cross-platform app development for Android, iOS, and Fuchsia. Flutter also supports Escher which is a graphic-rendering engine. Escher is capable of rendering Google’s shadow-heavy Material Design-based user interface guidelines. Material Design aims to “develop a single underlying system that allows for a unified experience across platforms and device sizes”.

When Fuchsia was first uploaded on Github last year, it merely had a command line interface. Recently, Google has also added an early user interface known as Armadillo to the OS. Like other apps, Armadillo is also based on Google’s Flutter SDK. This Armadillo UI has a card-based design. An Android user can compare it to the recent activity screen in Android. One interesting feature of the new UI is the advanced multitasking capability. With Android Nougat, many android users are now familiar with using two apps in split-screen mode. However, even at its early stage, Fuchsia’s Armadillo UI offers users the ability to use more than two apps simultaneously in either tab or split-screens.

One of the developers working on the OS says “Fuchsia isn’t a toy, it’s not a 20% project, it’s not a dumping ground of a dead thing that we don’t care about anymore”. Since there has been no official word from Google on how it plans on using this far-reaching operating system, all we can do is speculate. Some say that Fuchsia is an operating system dedicated to small scale appliances like smart-watches while another faction of experts at various media outlets believe that Fuchsia is being developed as a viable replacement for Android, given its ability to run smoothly on smartphones and tablets offering a beautiful user experience alongside powerful functionality. The most interesting of these theories is that Fuchsia is Google’s attempt to unify Android and Chrome OS to provide users a truly connected experience across all devices. It is still too early to comment on what Google is trying to achieve with Fuchsia. All one can say at this stage is that whatever Google has in store for this OS, it will broaden the scope of technology.

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