A New Kernel for New Technology
Operating systems make use of kernels, key core programs that control all other computer operations. Many of these kernels are based on Linux, and technology companies have adapted older Linux kernels for use in new computers and smart devices for years. In some cases, new devices might utilize kernels modified only slightly since they were first developed two decades ago.
In order to create a new operating system, Google has decided to begin with a new kernel. This means that developers will have to build Fuchsia from the most basic levels, starting from the ground up to create an operating system that rivals those currently in use. While this might seem like a lot more trouble than is necessary, especially considering that existing Linux kernels are available, there are a number of reasons for an operating system based on a brand new kernel.
Advantages of Fuchsia
With more and more devices on the market that explore the possibilities of computing and advanced sensors, the need for a single type of operating system has changed in recent years. Oftentimes, older kernels are simply too large and complex for recent smart items, overwhelming the capacity of small microcontroller systems. Beyond that, kernels based on Linux make use of a scheduler function to sort and process tasks, and a greater number of recent smart devices require real-time functions in order to work optimally. This fundamental discrepancy means that the Linux-based operating systems will not allow these devices to work as well as they can.
Though much remains to be seen about Fuchsia, some developers believe that Google is creating this new operating system to marry the functionally efficient elements of a Linux-based system with an OS that is built for today's smaller computing devices. Creating a new operating system will also help Google to avoid potential run-ins with the Android system, which utilizes a Linux-based kernel for its OS procedures. How Fuchsia will help to improve functionality and pave the way for newer, more efficient smart devices remains to be seen, but it appears that Google is making a move in that direction.
Another Battle is Coming
The software is designed for "modern phones and modern personal computers," which suggests Google intends to compete against Microsoft's Windows and possibly its own Android.
First there was Windows vs. Mac. Then came iOS vs. Android. Now with a project called Fuchsia, Google could be starting a new software platform war -- but we don't yet know who's on the other side of the battle line.
Fuchsia, which emerged Friday, is an operating system designed for "modern phones and modern personal computers," Google says. For those devices, the tech titan already has Android and Chrome OS, raising the possibility that Fuchsia will compete with Google's own work.
It's hard to launch a new mainstream operating system. But with Android, Google became one of the few companies to successfully do so, and the Fuchsia team includes veterans of operating systems including the legendary BeOS. And as Apple showed with iOS on its iPhones, a new operating system can bring dramatic new benefits to consumers.
You may be happy with Windows, Android, MacOS or iOS. But there's still room for improvement. A fresh start in the world of operating systems could mean stronger security, more responsiveness, longer battery life, and an easier time for programmers writing sophisticated apps.
Building an operating system is technically hard, especially one like Android or Windows that has to handle a wide variety of hardware. And when building a new OS, it's hard to get developers to write software tailored for it -- a key problem that doomed many operating systems, including Windows Phone, Mozilla's Firefox OS, Palm's WebOS and Ubuntu Touch. If people aren't using the software, there's no incentive for developers to support it.
And getting consumers excited about operating systems is tough. "Users really don't want to run operating systems -- they want to run apps," said Gartner analyst Michael Silver.
An operating system manages a device's most basic operations. It registers keyboard clicks, sends data over a network, juggles the tasks running on a processor, stores files on a drive, displays graphics on a screen and controls a phone camera. At the center of the OS is software called a kernel, which in Fuchsia's case is called Magenta. Android is based on the open-source Linux kernel that has been around since 1991.
Fuchsia, an open-source project
Fuchsia is an open-source project, meaning anyone can see the underlying programming instructions, modify them and use them for their own purposes. It's hard to sell open-source software the way Microsoft sells Windows or Adobe Systems sells Photoshop, but it's easier to attract outside programmers to contribute an open-source project, and it's more likely the software will be used and improved as a result.