Google is still reeling from the biggest layoff in company history last Friday. Past cost cuts over the past six months have caused several projects at Google to be halted or deprioritised, and it’s hard to lay off 12,000 people without some additional projects taking a hit. The New York Times has a report on which divisions are being hit hardest, and a big one is Google’s future OS development group, Fuchsia.
While the overall company was cutting 6 percent of its employees, the Times pointed out that Fuchsia saw an outsized 16 percent of its 400-strong workforce take a hit. While it’s not clear what that means for the future of the division, the future of Fuchsia’s division has never really been clear.
Fuchsia has been an ongoing mystery within Google since it first gained widespread press coverage in 2017. Google rarely talks about it officially, mostly leaving rumors and Github documentation to find out what’s going on. The OS isn’t a small project though – it’s not even based on Linux, opting instead to use a custom, internal kernel, so Google is really building an entire OS from scratch. Google is shipping the OS to consumers today in its Nest smart displays, where it replaced the older Cast OS. The internal OS swap was completely invisible to consumers compared to the legacy OS, had no benefits, and was never officially announced or promoted. You can’t do much with it on a locked smart display, so even after shipping, Fuchsia is still a mystery.
The biggest questions surrounding Fuchsia are, “Why does this exist and what are its purposes?” Is Fuchsia an ultimate replacement for Android or Chrome OS? Around 2018, when we first ran Fuchsia on a Pixelbook, the source code documentation for the custom kernel said it was “aimed at modern phones and modern PCs with fast processors”, which definitely made it sound like an Android and/or Chrome version. OS successor built for flagship devices. That early codebase also included graphical user interfaces for PCs and phones, making it clear that this was a consumer operating system. After Fuchsia got some initial publicity, it removed its public interface code.
2018 also saw a basic Bloomberg report calling Fuchsia “a successor to Android” and saying the team planned to launch on smart speakers in 2021 (which was perfect) and move to phones and laptops later in 2023. Even the name “Fuchsia” was a reference to Apple projects involving some members of the team. “Pink” was the codename for a canceled successor to the classic Mac OS, and “Purple” was the codename for the iPhone OS. The color Fuchsia is a mix of pink and purple, so this all sounded very ambitious.