Google is still making its mysterious Fuchsia OS, and now it wants your help

Technology

It’s been over four years since we first found out that Google is developing a new operating system called Fuchsia. It’s unique because it’s not based on a Linux kernel; instead, it uses a microkernel called Zircon. It’s also unique because, despite being developed “in the open” on publicly browsable repositories, nobody really understands what the OS is for, and Google executives have been remarkably coy about it all.

Today, that mix of trends continues as the company announces that it’s opening up a little more by asking for more public contributors from outside its organization. Google says it has “created new public mailing lists for project discussions, added a governance model to clarify how strategic decisions are made, and opened up the issue tracker for public contributors to see what’s being worked on.”

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a dive into the code and documentation Google has made available, though there are some early UI examples. Google’s post today emphasizes that “Fuchsia is not ready for general product development or as a development target,” but it’s likely that the announcement will spur another round of analysis.

We know that Fuchsia isn’t necessarily meant to be a one-for-one replacement for Android or Chrome OS. The most interesting clues to Fuchsia’s practical implementations come from the fact that we know it has been tested on hardware that eventually gets released as Google smart speakers — though when they’re released, they aren’t running Fuchsia. Kyle Bradshaw at 9to5Google has laid out several examples of Fuchsia codenames lining up with “Made by Google” devices.

Google simply calls Fuchsia a “production-grade operating system that is secure, updatable, inclusive, and pragmatic.” In an interview on The Vergecast in 2019, Google’s Hiroshi Lockheimer characterized Fuchsia may be optimized for “certain other form factors” beyond phones or laptops.

We’re looking at what a new take on an operating system could be like. And so I know out there people are getting pretty excited saying, ‘Oh this is the new Android,” or, “This is the new Chrome OS.” Fuchsia is really not about that. Fuchsia is about just pushing the state of the art in terms of operating systems and things that we learn from Fuchsia we can incorporate into other products.

Along with the new mailing lists and call for contributors, Google is also publishing a “technical roadmap,” but it mainly focuses on low-level OS stuff like “a driver framework for updating the kernel independently of the drivers” and the “Fuchsia Interface Definition Language.” Fuchsia’s roadmap implies that many of the initial subsystems are being revamped, with a new IO library and component architecture,

Google runs lots of open-source projects that are nominally developed by anybody but in practice are mostly made by Google’s engineers. Fuchsia looks to be the same sort of thing. In the new governance model the company is announcing today, it says “Google steers the direction of Fuchsia and makes platform decisions” but encourages outside contributions.

Developers can visit fuchsia.dev to find out more and also download the code necessary to build the source code and run an emulator.