Ahead of the new year, Google has been making preparations for more of its developers to work with the Fuchsia operating system.
Since 2017, we’ve been carefully studying the progress of Google’s “Fuchsia” project, an effort to make an entirely new operating system and kernel, rather than relying on existing options like Linux. In that time, Fuchsia has steadily grown from an interesting experiment to become the foundation of Google’s Nest Hub smart display software. As we reported earlier this year, the next immediate frontier for the Fuchsia project is to run Google’s smart speakers, including the 2020 Nest Audio and new speakers likely to release in 2023.
But those who have followed Fuchsia’s journey from its earliest days know that this operating system has far too much potential to be solely relegated to the smart home. Our first looks at Fuchsia in action showed Google’s bold vision for the future of both mobile and desktop computing. To that end, one of the earliest devices on which you could install Fuchsia was the original Google Pixelbook.
The Fuchsia team has also long been focused on ensuring that the existing wealth of Linux and Android apps would carry over to the new operating system. At first, this involved running things in a virtual machine, effectively the same way that ChromeOS offers apps from Android, Steam, and Linux. More recently, Google has been working on “Starnix,” a bold new way to let Android and Linux apps run directly within Fuchsia.
Without these solutions, any Fuchsia-powered laptop/phone/tablet would be faced with a chicken-and-egg problem. That is, no buyer wants a device without their favorite apps, and most app developers don’t want to support a platform before it’s popular. Instead, Google is seemingly hoping to offer a massive back catalog of apps from day one.
Of course, Fuchsia can’t rely on Android and Linux apps forever, and Google knows it. Beyond that, the company would likely want to make a strong showing in support of a new operating system, and native Fuchsia versions of popular Google apps would go a long way toward that.
We’ve already seen progress on this front, with Google’s Chrome team having prepared support for running the full Chrome browser experience within Fuchsia. In the time since then, a team of Googlers have been actively testing what it’s like to use Fuchsia (installed on a Pixelbook Go) on a daily basis. After all, some people these days — this author included — can do their jobs almost entirely within the bounds of a web browser.
With that particular roadblock now out of the way, it seems Google is working to get more developers invested in making apps/products for Fuchsia. From what we’ve been able to piece together, Fuchsia’s team hosted an “SDK Bootcamp” event earlier this month. The event’s name alone suggests that a new group of developers were being quickly brought up to speed on how to use the Fuchsia SDK to build apps for the platform.
Part of this year’s preparation for the bootcamp involved releasing and making improvements to an official Visual Studio Code plugin designed for working with Fuchsia. As of today, the extension has been downloaded just shy of 500 times, offering an interesting picture of the current number of developers working on Fuchsia-related projects.
We can’t be sure whether this was solely an event for Googlers to get familiar with the new OS or if employees from any of Google’s partner companies were invited. In either case, this SDK Bootcamp (and the new slate of Fuchsia-powered apps/experiences that may ensue) could be a sign that Fuchsia is approaching its “big reveal” moment, like the announcement of Android at Google I/O 2008.
All that said, before we get too excited, it’s important to note the way that Google employees have spoken about Fuchsia up to this point. One of the earliest acknowledgements of the project was at I/O 2019 when Hiroshi Lockheimer described Fuchsia as a testbed for experiments and cautioned not to think of it as a unification of or replacement to Google’s efforts in ChromeOS and Android.
So, naturally, a lot of people — sort of, you know — assume, “It’s a new OS from Google, so it must be the future. The one OS from Google,” you know. That’s not how we look at it. We look at it as sort of a place where we can try out new ideas.
Meanwhile, in a discussion on Hacker News, one member of the Fuchsia team succinctly explained that Fuchsia isn’t a “product” in the same way that Android is. Instead, it’s a platform upon which products like Android or the Nest Hub can be built.
Fuchsia isn’t necessarily targeting end users or application developers. Fuchsia exists to make products easier to build and maintain. Products are responsible for the app developer and end user experience.
Fuchsia’s former director of engineering, Chris McKillop, echoed this sentiment in our interview with him earlier this year, saying that Fuchsia was “focused on consumer products and the problems that are faced by consumers and developers for consumers.”
Bearing all that in mind, I’m personally still optimistic about the next steps for Google’s operating system. Whether Fuchsia becomes the company’s next splashy reveal or the hidden underpinning of many products and experiences to come, the future is looking bright, pink, and purple.
More on Fuchsia:
- Google preparing to upgrade Nest Audio as Fuchsia’s first smart speaker
- Google may be upgrading its Nest speakers to Fuchsia, with new models hinted for 2023
- Interview: Fuchsia’s past, present, and future, as told by ex-director Chris McKillop
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