For years, Facebook’s only product was a website, but it has since expanded into hardware with Portal and Oculus. Facebook uses heavily modified versions of Android on both devices, and that makes it dependent on Google and the Android Open Source Project. The company is now reportedly looking to bring its software in-house with a custom operating system. It has apparently even hired one of the original architects of Windows NT to head the project.
The original report comes from The Information, which doesn’t have many details beyond the existence of the project. Facebook hired Mark Lucovsky, a veteran of Microsoft where he co-authored the Windows NT operating system. Windows NT underpins Microsoft’s software stack to this day with Windows 10. Few people have experience building wildly successful operating systems from scratch, but Lucovsky is one of them.
Facebook stopped short of confirming the report in its entirety, but the company’s head of hardware, Andrew Bosworth, did confirm Facebook is looking toward the future. “We really want to make sure the next generation has space for us,” Bosworth said. “We don’t think we can trust the marketplace or competitors to ensure that’s the case. And so we’re gonna do it ourselves.”
Facebook’s primary concern here is probably Oculus, which is currently leading in the VR space. VR is only starting to take off after years of slow growth, and there’s a lot we don’t know about how people will want to interact with truly immersive software. Starting scratch might give Facebook the opportunity to find out. Oculus is also a platform that relies on developer support, and Android isn’t always the most friendly development experience.
This won’t be Facebook’s first attempt at owning the software experience. In 2013, it partnered with HTC to launch the HTC First, an Android phone with a Facebook-based UI layer called Facebook Home. Based on reviews of the device, the best thing about it was that you could disable Facebook Home and have a competent, nearly stock Android experience.
Facebook having so much control over the software experience might not have raised red flags in 2013, but we live in a different world. The company’s repeated privacy violations and lax security practices have attracted intense scrutiny. Would anyone trust a VR headset with a completely custom Facebook operating system? The company might end up regretting this.
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