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The Eclipse Foundation Partners with China's OpenAtom on a New Operating System

The Eclipse Foundation today announced the launch of a top-level project to develop a new open-source, vendor-neutral OS designed to provide an alternative to existing IoT and edge operating systems.

Called Oniro, the new OS is an implementation of OpenHarmony, a distributed multi-kernel operating system developed by OpenAtom, China’s first open-source foundation. The purpose of Oniro is to provide the same operating system across a much wider range of devices, Mike Milinkovich, the executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, told me, such as a tiny leak sensor in a home and a Raspberry Pi.

"The interesting thing about Oniro from a technical point of view is that it's a single operating system that will run on multiple kernels," Milinkovich said. "The two we're working on first are Yocto, which is, of course a variant of Linux that's particularly relevant in the embedded space. And the second one is Zephyr, which is a sort of a lightweight operating system that you would put on much smaller devices."

The Eclipse Foundation announced that it would be collaborating with the OpenAtom on the OS last September.

According to its website, OpenAtom is a non-profit, independent legal entity "dedicated to public welfare undertakings in the open-source industry." The purpose of the OpenHarmony project is "to build an open, distributed operating system framework for smart IoT devices in the full-scenario, full-connectivity, and full-intelligence era."

The HarmonyOS is a commercial distribution of OpenHarmony developed by Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant. The company announced the developer preview release of HarmonyOS 3.0 last week. Version 2.0 was launched in June of this year, and Huawei has been rolling out HarmonyOS on selected smartphone models that offer users an alternative to Google's Android platform.

The main code base for OpenHarmony is hosted on Gitee, China's version of GitHub. The maintainers of the project wanted to grow its addressable market beyond China, Milinkovich explained, and they needed a Europe-based partner to do that. The Eclipse Foundation, now based in Belgium, was a natural partner, he said.

"I think this is evidence that our strategy of moving to Europe was the right one," Milinkovich said. "If we had still been a North American organization, I doubt that this opportunity would have come to us. People who would never have thought of us before are coming to us with projects."

The Eclipse Foundation announced that it would be moving its legal headquarters from the US last year and formally established its official headquarters in Belgium in January of this year.

To facilitate the governance for the Oniro device ecosystem, the Eclipse Foundation is also launching a new dedicated working group. The Eclipse Foundation’s working group structure provides the vendor neutrality and legal framework that enables transparent and equal collaboration between companies, Milinkovich said.

The initial working group membership roster includes Eclipse, OpenAtom, Linaro, a UK-based open-source organization focused on Linux for Arm-based devices, and Seco, an Italian IoT device manufacturer.

"To my knowledge, this is the first time three open-source foundations (Eclipse, OpenAtom, and Linaro) have collaborated on a single piece of technology," Milinkovich said.

Although he acknowledged that there's "a ton of work to do" on this project, Milinkovich emphasized that it's not starting from scratch.

"I saw some numbers today, and it's like 50 percent of the packages that are going into the initial Oniro build are essentially identical to what you'd get in a Debian distribution," he said. "And we're building initially on the Yocto and Zephyr kernels. I always say, don't reinvent the wheel, stand on the shoulders of giants. And that's what we're trying to do here with as much reuse as possible from all the existing work that has been done."

The roadmap for the project includes the development of a number of "blueprints" targeting an initial set of devices, Milinkovich explained.

"That's how we're going to grow the developer enablement and build out the ecosystem," he said, "by making it as simple as possible for developers to grab a blueprint that closely matches their requirements, and then modify it to deliver the piece of functionality they're working on."

I asked Milinkovich what it was like working with a Chinese organization.

"Other than getting phone calls really early in the morning, it's not so bad," he quipped. "But seriously, we don't think of China as a place where open source starts, but primarily as a consumer of open source. I think this is sort of a step in their maturation, of them becoming a first-class citizen in the global supply chain of open-source software, which is really driving innovation everywhere around the world. So, from that, from that point of view I think this is a major step."

Davide Ricci, director of the Huawei’s Consumer Business Group European Open-Source Technology Center, expressed his organization's enthusiasm for the project the press release.

"It is so exciting to see everything moving under the expert governance of the Eclipse Foundation," he said. "Under the Eclipse Foundation the project will have its greatest chance at onboarding new contributing members and bringing real products on the shelves of consumer electronics stores around the world. We reckon Oniro is not a sprint, rather a marathon, and we are thrilled and committed to this world changing journey."

Posted by John K. Waters on October 26, 2021