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Huawei officially reveals Harmony OS, its first party operating system

In the city of Dongguan, China, Huawei finally took the wraps off its long-rumored, first-party operating system. The OS, called Harmony OS, has been in development for several years, but it’s recently taken on a role as a key player in Huawei’s contingency plan since the U.S. enacted a trade ban on the Chinese technology company. At the Huawei Developer Conference, Huawei finally shared the first details about its in-house OS, but the company wasn’t ready to show off Harmony on smartphones just yet. Tomorrow, the company will show off Harmony OS on the Honor Vision TV. For now, Android remains the go-to mobile OS for Huawei and Honor smartphones and tablets.

Harmony OS is microkernel-based, like Google’s in-development Fuchsia OS. Huawei says that Fuchsia uses a “non-distributed design,” unlike the new Harmony OS. Huawei says that this allows for flexible deployment of the new OS on various devices, easing app development in all scenarios. To justify both of these claims, Huawei brings up that it is “hard to deliver a smooth experience across different devices with [a] huge amount of [code] in Android and Linux core.” That’s because “multi-device interconnection [raises] requirements for security” and the “close-coupling between [the] app ecosystem and [the] hardware compromises [the] user experience and development efficiency.”

Harmony OS by Huawei
Harmony OS by Huawei
Harmony OS by Huawei

The use of a microkernel also improves security, according to Huawei. The microkernel only “provides the most basic services like thread scheduling and IPC,” while most system services are implemented in user space. With less code to audit, the probability that a new attack will be discovered will be low. Huawei also says it is using “formal verification methods” to secure the TEE kernel. Huawei says this technique, which uses a “mathematical approach to validate system correctness from the source,” is mainly applied to security-critical fields like aerospace and chipsets, “significantly contributing to system reliability and robustness.” The microkernel can furthermore be “scaled on demand for wider system security.” In closing, Huawei boasts that products can achieve an EAL 5+ certification level running the new OS.

Performance is theoretically better than Android and other Linux-based operating systems, according to slides shared by Huawei. Huawei says that Harmony OS uses a distributed virtual bus with a simplified protocol: Rather than 4 layers, there is only 1 layer in the protocol stack to “boost the payload efficiency.” The effects of this change to simplify interactions are “faster discovery and connections” of hardware like the display, cameras, speakers, etc.

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