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article imageFuchsia is an operating system being built entirely by Google

By James Walker     Aug 12, 2016 in Technology
Google is building an all-new operating system that’s built from the ground up to run on phones and desktop computers. Known as Fuchsia, it seems to be a completely different project to Android and Chrome OS, but its purpose remains unknown.
Fuchsia was uncovered this week. It first made a public appearance in early July, when Google quietly created a new repository for the operating system on its development server. The OS is open-source, allowing outsiders to peek in and contribute as Google begins to build Fuchsia.
Not a lot of code has currently been written. There's a basic kernel, Magenta, that targets "modern phones and modern personal computers" and the beginnings of a user interface stack to create apps. According to notes in the repository, the operating system can already be booted onto the Intel NUC mini-computer and Acer Switch 12 laptop. Support for the Raspberry Pi 3 is said to be coming soon.
Google's choice of UI framework, responsible for creating graphical elements like the desktop and windows, has prompted discussion amongst developers. Fuchsia uses Flutter for its user interface, a framework that includes another project called Escher. Escher supports complex effects like soft shadows and light diffusion that appear out of place on the lightweight Fuchsia.
In a comment on Hacker News, user pavlov proposed a reason for Escher's presence. The shadow and reflection effects that Escher specialises in are a key component of Google's Material Design Android design language, suggesting Fuchsia will run apps that are styled like current Android ones. "I think the idea here is to build an UI layer that's designed from scratch for Google's Material design language," explained pavlov.
Apart from the Material Design focus, nothing else is known about Fuchsia. Google hasn't officially said anything about the OS and speculation is rife about its intentions for the project. A new operating system from a company as sizeable as Google is bound to attract attention and Fuchsia is no exception.
There's currently no serious suggestion that Fuchsia is built to replace either Android or Chrome OS, Google's two current operating systems. It could be designed to combine the two into a single merged OS, as has been previously rumoured. The inclusion of a kernel that runs on phones and PCs fits with this idea, although the emphasis on lightweight software makes it less plausible.
Fuchsia may be planned as an operating system for internal use by Google. It could be intended to power Internet of Things devices that require a scaled-down core, but the inclusion of a sophisticated UI stack doesn't make sense here.
Hacker News users suggested the OS may be intended as a platform for virtual and augmented reality. Here, a complex UI layer is required, allowing developers to create immersive visually appealing content. A slimmed down kernel is also desirable, reducing input latency and creating higher frame rates. Fuchsia could be an OS designed from the ground-up for VR, indicating Google's growing interest in the field.
Advanced users interested in the project can download and build it themselves from the source. It comes with a basic kernel, support for a handful of programming languages and a single functioning program. As Fuchsia evolves over the coming months, Google's intentions for the project should become more obvious. It may be some time before it's clear whether Fuchsia is a new device-agnostic OS for consumers or something to run behind the scenes at Google, however.
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