What in the heck is going on?
The world of mobile and IoT operating systems used to be pretty stable and comprehensible. Suddenly, however, surprising events and weird changes have left everyone scratching their heads.
Here are the questions I’m hearing about these operating systems — and the answers.
Will Pixelbooks run Windows?
All of a sudden, Chromebook-using IT pros and developers are wondering whether Google’s Pixelbook will soon dual-boot into Microsoft Windows.
A sharp-eyed Reddit user discovered some comments in the Chromium Gerrit that’s leading some to speculate about a coming dual-boot feature. (Gerrit is a team code collaboration tool that integrates with Git.)
One comment references a “Message string for AltOS picker screen,” which offers two options: “Chrome OS” and “Alt OS.”
Raising the obvious question: What is “Alt OS”?
The very thin thread of evidence for a dual boot into Windows is a reference in the same commit to an internal Google document called “go/vboot-windows.”
Trouble is, Google offering Windows on Pixelbooks doesn’t make sense. Google hardware exists to support Google software and services.
What makes a little more sense is Fuschia OS as “Alt OS.” (More on Fuschia below.)
It’s also possible that Google wants to enable enterprises, schools and developers to more easily dual-boot in whatever OS they want to tinker with as a way to encourage such customers to try Chrome OS.
A number of experimental alternative OS projects are being worked on in the Linux community. They include GalliumOS, which is based on Xubuntu and is designed for Chrome OS devices specifically. However, GalliumOS itself contains a script that enables users to dual-boot Chrome OS and GalliumOS.
So the answer to the question of whether Chromebooks will run Windows is: Maybe, but probably not.
Does Google plan to replace Android and/or Chrome with Fuschia?
I told you about Google’s Fuschia OS in December. It’s an operating system built from scratch by Google.
While both Android and Chrome are based on Linux, Fuschia is based on a Google-built Zircon microkernel called Magenta.
Google has been working on Fuschia for some time, and it’s rumored to be coming out next year.
Today, the Pixelbook is the only device supported by Fuschia.
The OS is conspicuously incomplete. But you can also check it out in a browser. As you can see, it looks very much like an OS designed to run on a smartphone. Its design is based on Material Design “cards.”
In a best-case scenario, Fuschia could eventually replace Android and solve several of Android’s most annoying problems.
First, its Zircon kernel could continuously update and patch all versions. Today, Android has a serious problem with OEMs, which tend to be slow with updates and version upgrades. Most Android phones run an old version of Android.
Fuschia might run on all devices, replacing not only Android but also Chrome OS.
Another Fuschia feature, called Ledger, synchronizes all Fuschia devices owned by a single user, so a laptop, tablet and phone might all have the same apps, documents and data, and all would be synchronized.
It’s possible that all apps on Fuschia could run like Android Instant Apps, which would mean that apps would run without being downloaded or fully installed.
But all this is speculation. We really don’t know where Google is going with Fuschia.
Did Google shut down unauthorized Android devices?
The answer is: No.
Last month, however, Google started unceremoniously blocking access to its own Android apps and the Play Store on uncertified devices with firmware created after March 16.
In order to gain access to the apps, users with custom ROMs will have to register their phones on a whitelist each time they do a factory reset.
The move is intended to crack down on OEMs that fail to certify their phones while still using Google apps or encouraging users to download and use the apps.
In other words, Google is trying to discourage smartphone makers from existing in a gray area between the regular, licensed version of branded Android and the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) version, which is free to use but does not come with the “Android” branding or access to Google Apps and services.
Now companies will be forced to pick between the two.
Unfortunately, enthusiasts and companies creating or using custom ROMs are inconvenienced by the new policy.
Will ZTE be banned from using Android?
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross this week banned U.S. companies from selling parts and software to China’s ZTE for seven years. (The company was caught shipping telecom equipment to Iran and North Korea in violation of U.S. sanctions, then lied about it, according to the Commerce Department. A settlement agreement was reached, then ZTE was caught failing to comply with the settlement.)
The news agency Reuters guessed that as many as 30% of the components in ZTE devices come from the U.S., including parts from Qualcomm. And, of course, ZTE devices run Android.
Replacing the U.S. parts with comparable parts from other sources is fairly easy. Replacing Android, not so much.
Google’s Android apps, as well as Google Play and the Android app ecosystem, are licensed by contract with Google. The ban says ZTE is not allowed to “participate in any way in any transaction involving any commodity, software or technology ... exported or to be exported from the United States,” and that covers licensing.
Google and ZTE have been meeting to figure out if ZTE can somehow continue to use Android and the Play Store, despite the ban.
It’s also unclear whether ZTE will be allowed to update and patch existing ZTE phones, according to Reuters, which creates a security threat to current ZTE phone owners.
The bottom line is that we don’t know if ZTE will be banned from using Android, or even updating current ZTE phones.
Did Amazon just launch a ‘lite’ Android web browser?
Amazon did launch an Android web browser, but it’s targeted at emerging markets where users are likely to have low-speed connectivity. So far, it’s available only in India.
There are a few odd things about Amazon’s “lite” browser. Bizarrely, the browser is called “Internet.”
Also, it’s available on the Indian Google Play store, but not on the Indian Amazon Appstore.
So, yes, Amazon launched a “lite” Android browser called Internet, but you’ll probably never use it.
Does Google’s IoT platform exist yet?
Google has been working for some time on an IoT platform called “Android Things.”
Is Android Things here yet?
The answer is: Sort of. Google this week said Android Things Developer Preview 8 is “feature complete,” and a release candidate.
The actual release of version 1 of Android Things is imminent, and it will come in the form of an SDK for developers.
The expected benefit of Android Things is that creating functionality and apps for IoT devices will be fast and easier, and that the final product will be more functional and secure than today’s average IoT gadget.
Does Microsoft sell Linux now?
The answer is: Yes!
Microsoft’s entire business has always been based on non-Linux operating systems, particularly Windows since the 1990s.
Microsoft this week announced a new IoT platform based on Linux called Azure Sphere.
The new OS uses a custom Linux kernel optimized for low-power devices.
Microsoft’s focus is security. A new cloud-based offering called the Azure Sphere Security Service handles certificate-based authentication for the platform. And Azure Sphere servers will monitor devices and traffic for security problems.
Let me say it again: Microsoft sells Linux now.
Will Apple ever unify iOS and macOS into a single operating system?
Microsoft’s got Windows 10 running on mobile ARM-powered devices. Google may unify mobile and desktop with Fuschia. But what about Apple?
It seems as if Apple has been headed for unity between iOS and macOS for years, with macOS gaining mobilesque interfaces such as the Launchpad and iOS gaining desktopish features such as multitasking and folders.
Not so fast, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook, who said this week that merging iOS and macOS would require “watering down one for the other.” He said that “if you begin to merge the two ... you begin to make trade-offs and compromises. ... I don’t think that’s what users want.” That sounds like a “no.”
I remember when Apple used to tell us what users wanted.
In any event, Cook was specifically talking about a “merger” of the OSs. That doesn’t preclude the promise of an internal project code-named “Marzipan” that would reportedly enable iOS apps to run on macOS.
The way to look at Marzipan is that, in the same way iOS developers can choose to make apps work natively on both iPhones and iPads, they would have a third option to enable them to work natively in macOS, supporting keyboards, trackpads and other desktop features.
Will iOS and macOS be “merged”? No. Will they work better together? Yes.
After what sugary snack will Android P be named?
Popsicle. (At least if this wallpaper released by Google this week is any guide.)
And there you have it: Clear answers to the questions that have arisen from the confusing events and changes happening in recent weeks to the world of mobile and IoT operating systems.