Here's a puzzle: Google appears to have started work on a completely new operating system, but no one knows quite what it's for. The project's name is Fuchsia, and it currently exists as a growing pile of code on the search giant's code depository and on GitHub, too. The fledgling OS has a number of interesting features, but so far Google has yet to comment on its intended function. All we really know is that this looks like a fresh start for Google, as the operating system does not use the Linux kernel — a core of basic code that underpins both Android and Chrome OS.
So what is Fuchsia for? There have been a number of suggestions. Some people think it could be used to "unify" Chrome OS and Android into a single operating system (a plan that was first rumored last year, with the new OS said to be scheduled for a 2017 release), while others say it could be used to power hardware like Google's OnHub router or third-party Internet of Things devices.
Fuchsia's core code is designed to be lightweight
Looking into Fuchsia's code 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 (computers that have a specialized function and often don't need an actual operating system, like the software in a digital watch). Similarly, both of the developers listed on Fuchsia's GitHub page — Christopher Anderson and Brian Swetland — are experts in embedded systems. Swetland is a senior software engineer at Google and Anderson has previously worked on the company's Android TV and Nexus Q projects.
But the OS also "targets modern phones [and] computers"
However, the Magenta kernel can do a lot more than just power a router. Google's own documentation says the software "targets modern phones and modern personal computers" that use "fast processors" and "non-trivial amounts of RAM." It notes that Magenta supports a number of advanced features, including user modes and a "capability-based security model." Further evidence that Fuchsia is intended for more than just Wi-Fi-connected gadgets include the fact that Google already has its own IoT platform (the Android-based Brillo), and the fact that the new OS includes support for graphics rendering. Some users of Hacker News have even suggested that Fuchsia could be use for augmented reality interfaces. (Google itself has yet to respond to requests for comment.)
This is just speculation for now, and the only real description we have of Fuchsia is what it says at the top of the GitHub page: "Pink + Purple == Fuchsia (a new Operating System)." The question of why the project would be revealed in this way is also confusing, although when pressed on the subject during an IRC chat, Swetland reportedly said: "The decision was made to build it open source, so might as well start there from the beginning."
Well, we've certainly got the beginning of Fuchsia, but where it goes next isn't clear. From what we can see, it's currently being tested on all sorts of systems. Swetland says it's "booting reasonably well" on small-form factor Intel PCs (NUCs) as well as an Acer Switch Alpha 12 laptop ("although driver support is still a work in progress"), while another Google developer involved in the project, Travis Geiselbrecht, says they'll soon have support for the Raspberry Pi 3. At this rate, it looks like Fuchsia will be popping up all over the place.