ETtech Explained: what is government-backed BharOS and why is it important?

At a time when internet giant Google is facing a crackdown from the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for its practices pertaining to its Android mobile operating system, an Indian government-funded operating system BharOS has been unveiled by education minister Dharmendra Pradhan and IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, who showcased the OS earlier this week.

What is BharOS?
BharOS is based on the Android Open Source Project. The key difference between BharOS and the versions of Android installed on most smartphones today is that BharOS does not come preloaded with Google apps such as such as Chrome, Gmail, Search, YoutTube and Maps, which one of the points of contention between Google and India’s antitrust regulator.

Who developed BharOS?
The software has been developed by Chennai-based JandK Operations Pvt. Ltd, which was incubated by IIT Madras Pravartak Technologies Foundation. The foundation is funded by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, under its national mission on interdisciplinary cyber-physical systems.

Also read | Dharmendra Pradhan tests indigenously developed ‘BharOS’

How can one use the new OS?

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The new OS has not been rolled out yet but developers have said they will soon initiate discussions with smartphone makers to have BharOS installed on devices. The software is reportedly still being tested by some organisations on privacy and security.

Are there other such Android versions available?
Given that Android is an open source operating system, anyone can build their own version of the OS. While details of BharOS have not yet emerged, the software reportedly appears to be a non-compatible, forked version of Android, meaning the developers have not entered into an agreement with Google to licence its Play Store. Hundreds of such forked versions of Android exist, and the more prominent ones are Amazon’s Fire OS and Huawei’s Harmony OS.

What happened with Google’s run-in with the CCI?
Following the Supreme Court’s refusal to provide relief to Google in the antitrust case, the internet company announced changes to how it operates Android in India. On Wednesday, a day ahead of its deadline to comply with the CCI’s directions, the company said it was updating its backend to allow partners to build non-compatible or forked variants of Android. User choice billing will be available to all apps and games starting next month, it added.

Also read | Google blinks ahead of deadline; makes several changes to Android & Play Store billing

To make the process of sideloading apps and app stores easier, Google said it recently made changes to the Android installation flow and auto-updating capability for sideloaded apps and app stores “while ensuring users understand the potential security risks”.

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