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Everything you need to know about Fuchsia, Google’s mysterious new OS

Google’s best-known software ventures may be Android and Chrome OS[1], but the company is actually working on a third operating system. It’s called Fuchsia, and when it was first discovered last year, it only popped up as a single command line. Now, however, we know a lot more about the operating system.

Fuchsia looks totally different than any other mobile operating system we’ve seen, including Android, but that could be the point. The fact is that there’s currently a ton of mystery surrounding the operating system. We don’t know what it’s for, if it’s aimed at eventually replacing Android, if it’s just an experiment by Google, or if we should expect to see the new OS at Google I/O this year.

What exactly is Fuchsia?

Fuchsia is a little different from Android[2] and Chrome OS in that it’s not based on Linux.

Instead, it’s based on a new Google-developed kernel called Magenta. According to Google, Magenta is aimed at “modern phones and modern personal computers,” so it wouldn’t be surprising to one day see Fuchsia appear on our smartphones. Not only that, but Google has even added[3] Apple’s programming language, Swift, to the operating system — though we don’t know why just yet.

Because Fuchsia is written using the Flutter SDK, which runs on Android, chunks of Fuchsia can be run on an Android device. This version of Fuchsia appears to be called Armadillo, and it completely reimagines the home screen. The screen, according to testing by Ars Technica[4], is basically presented as a big scrolling list, with a profile picture, the date, your city, and a battery icon all placed at the center.

Above that, you’ll find “Story” cards, or a list of recent apps. Below, you’ll see a list of suggestions for you, which acts kind of like Google Now.

Everything you need to know about Fuchsia, Google’s mysterious new OS

You can also drag recent apps around and drop them where you choose to organize and personalize the home screen. If you drop one app on top of another, you’ll enter a split-screen mode with up to three apps.

According to Hacker News[5], Travis Geiselbrech, who worked on NewOS, BeOS, Danger, Palm’s webOS, and iOS, and Brian Swetland, who also worked on BeOS and Android, are involved in this project.

What is Fuchsia for?

The fact is that we just don’t know what Fuchsia is built for just yet. It could be in development by Google as an eventual replacement for Android. Ars Technica has an interesting take on this[6].

As it notes in its report, Android was built long before the iPhone[7] was released — initially as an operating system for digital cameras. After the launch of the iPhone, Android was repurposed for phones, but Google is still stuck to commitments it made with Android many years ago. The company faces a lot of challenges with Android — for example, it struggles to get updates rolled out across the entire ecosystem of devices.

Fuchsia could be Google’s answer to a truly modern smartphone operating system, and one that’s immediately updatable. Not only that, but by moving towards Fuchsia Google can also ditch Java and the issues it’s had surrounding the legal use of Java. It’s also possible Fuchsia is taking over Andromeda’s spot as an operating system for both phones and computers.

We know that Google has tested the new OS on phones, and we know that it’s now also testing it[8] on the Pixelbook too and other laptops too. Of course, if Fuchsia is destined for the smartphone, the most difficult thing for Google would be transitioning from the massive Android ecosystem to Fuchsia. If it managed to do so, however, the move could be huge for the smartphone world in general.

The Flutter SDK actually produced code for apps for Android and iOS, so developers could build apps in Flutter to work across all smartphone operating systems. Chances are we won’t find out anything new for a while, since Fuchsia OS is early in development. Some speculation suggests it’s possible we could hear about the operating system at Google I/O, but it’s a little more likely it’ll be a while longer before we hear anything official.

We’ll update this article as we hear more.

Try out Fuchsia for yourself

As of early May, you can actually try out Fuchsia for yourself. SlashGear[9], in partnership with HotFix Computer Repair, has put together a downloadable Android Package Kit (APK) that you can install on your phone to check out the OS. The APK is kind of like a preview version of a launcher of the alpha version of what’s currently dubbed Armadillo. Armadillo is basically the version code name for Fuchsia, which is the operating system — kind of like Nougat, which is the version name, for the OS known as Android.

Head over to HotFixIt to download it[10] for yourself, but before you do keep a few things in mind. Fuchsia is currently in its very early days, and as such don’t expect to be able to use it as your daily OS. While it should be relatively safe to use on most Android phones, you should generally only download the highly experimental software if you know what you’re doing.

Update: Added news that Fuchsia OS is being tested on the Chromebook and that Google has added Swift support to it.

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References

  1. ^ Chrome OS (www.digitaltrends.com)
  2. ^ Android (www.digitaltrends.com)
  3. ^ Google has even added (www.digitaltrends.com)
  4. ^ testing by Ars Technica (arstechnica.com)
  5. ^ Hacker News (news.ycombinator.com)
  6. ^ an interesting take on this (arstechnica.com)
  7. ^ iPhone (www.digitaltrends.com)
  8. ^ testing it (www.androidpolice.com)
  9. ^ SlashGear (www.slashgear.com)
  10. ^ to HotFixIt to download it (www.hotfixit.net)

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