The Mini OS Wars

During most of my time covering personal computers, the OS Wars were basically between Apple’s Mac OS and Microsoft’s Windows OS.
The battle between these two operating systems has been fierce at times with loyal users on each side swearing by their preferred operating system.

Then came the mobile OS wars, and while at first there were at least 4 or 5 mobile operating systems vying for supremacy, today the real battle is between Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. But we are about to move into a new area of what I call Mini operating systems wars, designed to work with a new class of CPU’s that run devices at what is called the Edge.

Edge computing has become a hot term in tech as it refers to actual devices that sit at the edge of a cloud-based solution. For example, an edge device could be a smart thermostat, smart light, smart refrigerator, or in a smart city example, smart parking meters, smart light posts, etc. For decades we have had many devices at the edge that used sensors in cars, appliances, etc. but their intelligence was controlled by some other type of internal CPU, and they had a tiny OS called a real-time OS (RTOS).

However, Qualcomm, Intel and other makers of core computing silicon are putting more power in the chips used at the edge to deliver a form of distributed computing where some of the actual computing is done on the edge device, and a minimal amount is done in the cloud.

These new CPUs will also find their way into what we call dedicated devices such as a new category of products that will hit the market next year that will be more like Digital Note-taking devices and not full tablets. It is estimated that close to 1 billion people use some pen and paper for note taking and various companies see an opportunity to create a new category of devices that simplify and digitize this task.

At the moment there are two main contenders for what I call a Mini-OS, and those are Microsoft and Google. In a recent post from Windows Central entitled “Microsoft’s ‘Windows Core’ aims to turn Windows 10 into a modular platform, the article outlines what is called Windows Core OS (WCOS). The article stated:

“In short, WCOS is a common denominator for Windows that works cross-platform, on any device type or architecture, which can be enhanced with modular extensions that give devices features and experiences where necessary.”

“In layman’s terms, its ultimate goal is to make Windows 10 much more flexible, allowing it to be installed on a wider variety of devices without being based on specific, pre-existing product variants. As a result of this, Windows itself can become smaller depending on the device, the OS itself can be built faster, and devices won’t be encumbered by components and features they don’t actually need; speeding up overall performance in the process on smaller or less capable devices.”

This would allow Microsoft or their partners to create application-specific devices and use this CORE OS to give intelligence to edge devices that has its low energy CPU and turns the edge device into a smart module of a distributed computing architecture.

Google also sees the need to provide an OS for edge devices and has what seems to be a mini OS in the works called Fuchsia. While details are still sketchy, Richard Windsor an analyst at Edison Investment Research states:

“Our take home from this analysis is that Fuchsia looks most suited to be used in embedded systems such as vehicles, white goods, machinery, wearables and so on.Consequently, this could be a single replacement for Android Auto and Android Wear.”

Mr. Windsor goes on to say:

“Fuchsia was first noticed on GitHub in August 2016 and differs from Android in that it is not based on Linux but on a kernel called Magenta which looks more like a kernel that is typically used for embedded systems such as vehicle infotainment units, white goods and so on. Fuchsia is also a real-time operating system (RTOS) which tend to be used for smaller systems which are typically embedded where response time is critical to the user experience.”

This news should not come as much of a surprise to serious industry watchers since the idea of edge devices becoming part of a distributed computing model has been in play for a long time. However, the move by Intel, Qualcomm, and others to give more intelligence to edge devices so that they can handle some of the computing locally do beg for some beefed-up RTOS, or in these cases, perhaps a serious modular extension of each of these companies current operating systems.

I disagree with Mr. Windsors suggestion that this might end up as a replacement for Android. I suspect this is a new type of mini-OS for edge devices that would allow Google to extend their reach well beyond their computing and mobile worlds today. And for Microsoft, if the Windows Central story is correct, it would give them a stronger foothold at the edge and bring perhaps billions of devices into the Windows World and allow them to grow their services model exponentially.

To date, I don’t see a similar Mini-OS coming from Apple although it is conceivable that they are working on a similar mini-OS that is a subset of IOS or a separate Mini-OS of their own from scratch. You can bet Apple wants to extend their reach to the edge too, so even if Apple does not have something we know about publicly, I can’t imagine they don’t see this same trend and are working on something similar.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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