[Updated May 23] — Google is rumored to be prepping a “Brillo” OS for IoT that runs on 32MB of RAM. Meanwhile, Huawei announced a LiteOS for IoT, and Russia tipped its own Linux-based mobile OS.
In the future, we may all have our own operating system, as well as 15 minutes of fame. Even now, the lure of owning, or more likely these days, hosting, one’s own OS continues to tempt companies and nations alike. This week, Huawei announced a lightweight, LiteOS platform for IoT, and Google was rumored to be preparing its own IoT oriented operating system. Meanwhile, the government of Russia announced plans to develop a Linux-based mobile OS with Jolla, and Canonical took another step with Ubuntu Touch by announcing that Meizu has launched the developer version of the Ubuntu MX4 phone in China.
Google Brillo to take on IoT?
According to The Information, Google will announce a small-footprint OS for Internet of Things applications at Google I/O next week in San Francisco. The new Brillo OS will be able to run on as little as 64MB or even 32MB of RAM, compared to the 512MB required with Android or even Android Wear. In comparison, Canonical’s Snappy Ubuntu Core, which also targets IoT devices, runs in 128MB RAM, of which just 40MB is directly used by the system.
Brillo will be aimed primarily at home automation devices that lack touchscreens. The OS is being developed by Google’s Android unit, and will be released for free under the Android brand, says the story.
The story didn’t say whether Brillo was based on Android, but it would seem likely it’s at least based on Linux. Android, of course, is based on Linux, and so are the devices built by its Nest home automation subsidiary, as well as the technology developed by the key home automation companies Nest has acquired: Dropcam and Revolv. Android is too resource intensive for IoT endpoints that don’t require touchscreens and sophisticated apps.
A Brillo announcement at Google I/O might also include new details on Nest’s Thread project, which promises a better alternative to short-range wireless standards for home automation such as ZigBee and Z-Wave. An IoT splash at Google would also answer Samsung, which last week rolled out an ambitious, IoT-focused Artik SoC and computer-on-module platform that runs Yocto Linux.
Huawei announces LiteOS — and may be prepping a mobile Kirin OS
This week Chinese technology giant Huawei announced it is working on a lightweight operating system for IoT called LiteOS that runs on just 10KB. The operating system supports zero configuration, auto-discovery, and auto-networking, says Huawei.
BetaNews has reported it’s based on Linux, but that would be surprising considering the small footprint. Even the minimalist uCLinux requires a boot image of 500KB to 1MB, and needs several kilobytes of RAM to run. Last October, ARM announced an RTOS-like Mbed OS aimed at IoT designed only for its Cortex-M microcontrollers.
According to Huawei, LiteOS will be “opened to all developers,” and in fact a github page has already been posted showing an ISC license. LiteOS can be widely applied to applications including smart homes, wearables, and connected vehicles, says Huawei. It will work within Huawei’s Agile Network 3.0 Architecture, which was announced at the same time. LiteOS will be one of three components in a new Agile IoT Solution that also includes an IoT gateway and a controller system.
According to ITWorld, LiteOS will run on both microcontrollers and applications processors, and will even be able to run on Android devices. Huawei will offer open APIs, as well as chipsets, modules, and development boards through a LiteOS community, says the story.
Also this week, rumors emerged that Huawei is working with ZTE to develop their own mobile OS called Kirin OS. The development was reported May 16 by GizmoChina as a rumor “to be taken with a pinch of salt.”
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Huawei’s “standalone operating system, which works in tact with a self-developed chip” has been under development for three years, according to GizmoChina’s sources. There was no indication whether the OS would be based on Android, like other forked mobile platforms from China such as Meizu’s Flyme OS. Presumably, in this day and age, it would be based on Linux. It has been awhile since we’ve seen a new proprietary mobile OS like BlackBerry, iOS, or Windows Phone.
Huawei has made a splash with its new generation of ARMv8 based Kirin processors. The Kirin SoCs include the octa-core Kirin 6220 SoC from its HiSilicon division, which runs on 96Boards.org’s new HiKey SBC. There’s also a Kirin 950 SoC that should arrive later this year that uses TSMC’s 16nm process.
Meanwhile, Huawei is also rumored to be Google’s next Nexus phone partner. Huawei’s new, Android based Huawei P8 phone is touted for its slim 6.4mm profile and high-end styling. The 5.2-inch phone runs on a 64-bit, octa-core Huawei Kirin 930 SoC with 3GB of RAM.
Russia plans mobile Linux OS — with Jolla
On May 17, the Russian government said it was working with Jolla, Finnish makers of the Jolla smartphone and its Linux-based Sailfish OS, to develop a mobile Linux OS for Russia. RBC quoted [in Russian] Nikolai Nikiforov, Russia’s Minister of Communications and Mass Media, as saying Russia plans to reduce the use of foreign mobile OSes from 95 percent to 50 percent by 2025.
The story, which was picked up by Russia Insider, goes on to say Russia is concerned about securing the personal data of Russian citizens, presumably from the U.S. National Security Agency. Edward Snowden, who has exposed efforts by the NSA to hack into personal mobile data in the U.S. and abroad, is now living in exile in Russia.
The mobile OS project is hoped to reinforce a recently passed Russian law that “states foreign companies must save all such data on Russian soil,” according to Russia Insider. Russia will also invite other BRICS (Brazil, India, China, and South Africa) nations to launch a consortium supporting the mobile project, says the story.
The collaboration with Jolla does not necessarily mean the OS will be based on the MeeGo Linux derived Sailfish OS. The RBC story says the OS will be developed entirely by Russians. Vladimir Putin’s government may be particularly interested in Jolla’s project to build a security hardened version of the Jolla phone, which is being marketed to government security agencies. The phone is being developed with Finland’s SSH Communications Security, which is best known for the SSH Secure Shell encrypted communications protocol.
Open source platforms are generally preferred for secure devices since it’s much more difficult to hide spyware. Android is more open than Apple’s iOS, but it’s still sufficiently closed to make it easier to enable backdoors.
There is no guarantee, of course, that Russia or China couldn’t eventually close parts of their “open” OSes to enable their own backdoors for spying. However, such a move would be more easily detected, especially if the OS is widely disseminated in the tech community. Meanwhile, Ars Technica speculates that if their Mobile OSes take off, Russia and China “might bring in protectionist measures making it much harder for Western companies to operate in their territories,” as they have done with Internet services.
This is not the first time the Russian government has turned to Linux in an effort to protect its people from Western western spying via technological “backdoors.” In 2010, then Prime Minister, and now President, Vladimir Putin, signed an order calling for the Russian government to switch to Linux from proprietary OSes such as Microsoft Windows, starting in 2Q 2012. Yet, that plan was scrapped in 2012 when Putin appointed Nikiforov as the head of the Ministry of Communications, according to Russia Insider.
China, meanwhile, began working on a Linux-based, Android-like OPhone in 2009. Like the Linux-based “Russian Windows,” however, the OPhone project came to an end. It is now being replaced by a Chinese government funded China Operating System (COS) aimed at PCs, smartphones, tablets, and TVs. When COS was announced, Chinese officials said the government was concerned about secret U.S. surveillance programs, as well as Android’s security gaps.
Ubuntu MX4 developer edition arrives in China
Meizu this week released a developer version of the long-expected Ubuntu modification of its MX4 phone. The Ubuntu MX4 is now on sale to developers in China, to be followed “soon” by a commercial release in Europe, and later in the year, back in China, according to the Ubuntu project.
Meizu’s Ubuntu MX4
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Based on an octa-core MediaTek MT6595 SoC, the 5.36-inch Ubuntu MX4 is much more powerful than BQ’s Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition, which went on sale in Europe in April. Like the Aquaris, the MX4 has four Cortex-A7 cores, and it adds four faster Cortex-A17 cores, as well as twice the RAM at 2GB. In June, Canonical will announce a third OEM partner for Ubuntu Touch that will introduce an Ubuntu phone in the U.S., according to OMG!Ubuntu.