Google’s Open Source Fuchsia OS: The Mystery Linux Distro


Few things are more tantalizing than a good mystery, and Google is making waves for an open source-centric mystery that may end up having profound implications. It all started in August when an extensive and unusual code repository for a new operating system called Fuchsia was discovered online, and now the growing source code set is on GitHub.

Thus far, Google officials have been mostly mum on the aim of this operating system, although they have made a few things clear in chat forums. Two developers listed on Fuchsia’s GitHub page — Christopher Anderson and Brian Swetland — are known for their work with embedded systems. The Verge, among other sites, has made a few logical deductions about the possible embedded systems focus for Fuchsia: “Looking into Fuchsia’s code points gives us a few clues. For example, the OS is built on Magenta, a “medium-sized microkernel” that is itself based on a project called LittleKernel, which is designed to be used in embedded systems,” the site reports.

The GitHub postings that confirm that Fuchsia is based on Magenta are particularly notable because Magenta has had applications in the embedded systems space. Here are some direct quotes: “Magenta is a new kernel that powers the Fuchsia OS. Magenta  is composed of 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.”

Meanwhile, Fast Company has focused on the fact that Google is building this new OS seemingly from scratch, which could mean that it is reimagining longstanding kernel technology such as the Linux kernel: “Here’s something you might not realize about your phones, tablets, and laptops,” Fast Company reports. “For the most part, they’re adaptations of software ‘kernels’ that are quite old.”

Could Google be completely reinventing the core functionality of what we consider to be an operating system? There are certainly historical precedents for that. When Google launched a beta release of Gmail in 2004, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL Mail and other services had absolutely dominant positions in the online email space. Look what happened. Google reimagined online email. Likewise, Chrome OS reimagined the operating system with unprecedented security features and cloud-centricity.

One could argue that Android and Chrome OS have roots in the same playbook, but the fact is that they are both based on Linux. Fuchsia, is not.

Android Police is convinced that Fuchsia may be aimed at the Internet of Things, and that could be a good guess. The embedded systems folks behind the new operating system would be logical choices to develop an IoT-targeted platform, and why would an IoT-focused operating system necessarily need to resemble our current ones? Additionally, let’s not forget that Google is already in the embedded hardware and home-focused hardware business, with the OnHub router and Google Home.

Wouldn’t it make sense that Google might try to front-run the build out of the Internet of Things with a new, portable and lightweight operating system that can work like an embedded system OS on a variety of Net-connected device? After all, the early creation of Android, building on Linux roots, enabled Google to be very agile as the mobile device revolution took shape. Surely, the company learned from that experience that an open source Hail Mary can result in a very timely touchdown.

You can find a Google developer commenting succinctly on Fuchsia on this page, but speculation abounds.

There is an old saying about Google — that the company “likes to throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.” We’re likely to hear more about Fuchsia soon, but one of the early, clear indications is that it won’t have much to do with the operating systems that you’re used to.