Why Google’s new Linux-less Fuchsia operating system is a huge deal

Credit: flickr/brian washburn

Open source from day zero

At LinuxCon last year, Linus Torvalds said that the Linux kernel has grown so big that if someone wants a really tiny kernel they would have to look elsewhere. This might be what Google is doing with its new operating system, codenamed Fuchsia.

The new operating system will run on a wide range of devices, including IoT devices, phones and PCs. And unlike Google's other operating systems, Chrome OS and Android, the new OS isn’t using the Linux kernel. Instead, Google is developing its own kernel, dubbed LittleKernel (LK), that’s optimized for embedded devices.

Google said on the GitHub page that “LK is a Kernel designed for small systems typically used in embedded applications.  It is good alternative to commercial offerings like FreeRTOS or ThreadX. Such systems often have a very limited amount of ram, a fixed set of peripherals and a bounded set of tasks.”

Fuchsia OS is powered by the Magenta platform, which comprises a “microkernel as well as a small set of userspace services, drivers, and libraries necessary for the system to boot, talk to hardware, load userspace processes and run them, etc. Fuchsia builds a much larger OS on top of this foundation,” according to the GitHub page.

Fuchsia OS is an extremely scalable operating system, according to the GitHub documents, as it can run on 32-bit/64-bit ARM CPUs, as well as on 64-bit PC processors. Google said that Magenta specifically targets targets modern phones and modern personal computers with fast processors, non-trivial amounts of RAM with arbitrary peripherals doing open ended computation. So it’s not yet clear whether the new OS will be used primarily on IoT devices or will eventually replace Android and Chrome OS, giving Google a universal OS to run across devices.

In addition to the new kernel, Google is using all of its own components for the new operating system: Dart is the main programming language and  Escher is the rendering engine. According to some news outlets, Flutter is also being used and it's possible that Material will be used as the UI language for the new OS.

It’s open source from day zero

The most important aspect of this operating system, from my point of view, is that Google is developing it in a pure open source manner from the very beginning. The source code of the project is already available on GitHub and Google hasn't even announced the project officially. Unlike Android or ChromeOS, where all the work is done by Google internally and then the source code is subsequently published, Fuchsia is open source from day zero.

Google has release all the components of the new operating system in a much more permissible MIT license. The community can try it, contribute to it and reuse it.

Raspberry Pi 3 users will soon be able to play with Fuchsia, according to Google developer Travis Geiselbrecht, who is working on the project.

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