In early 2018, Ren Zhengfei went to Huawei's Beijing Research Institute just to hear reports from each of the Consumer BG business lines.
Wang Chenglu was also among the reporters. As head of the Consumer Business Software Department, he had already encountered too many doubts along the way after launching the HarmonyOS project two years ago.
"The operating system is too difficult for Huawei to make; Huawei is not competitive and cannot compete with Android and iOS; Microsoft and Samsung can't make an operating system, so how can Huawei make it?"
Wang Chenglu was trying to explain to us in layman's terms that HarmonyOS was not a mobile phone operating system replacing Android and iOS, but an IoT-oriented device, which was not a track in nature.
On the other hand, it took the lead in pushing HarmonyOS to establish a project within the software division, hoping to demonstrate the value of HarmonyOS with a system prototype.
In May 2016, the Consumer Business Software Department reached an agreement to formally establish HarmonyOS as a project within the Software Department, and in early 2018, when Wang Chenglu reported to Ren Zhengfei, the system prototype and cross-device collaboration features of HarmonyOS were almost complete.
Ren Zhengfei recognized HarmonyOS's concept of connecting different devices. After reporting to Ren Zhengfei at Huawei's OpenLab lab in Beijing, Wang Chenglu's mind was finally set at rest.
Wang Chenglu told Tencent News that top-level approval was crucial for HarmonyOS, which means Huawei has a clear answer to the fundamental questions of whether it wants to build an OS and where it should go.
On the first working day after the National Day holiday in 2015, Wang Chenglu was invited by Richard Yu to officially join Huawei's consumer business, and before that, he was the head of Huawei's Central Software Academy.
Huawei's consumer business grew rapidly around 2015, with flagship phones such as the hot-selling Mate 8 largely proving Huawei's hardware capabilities.
However, due to a weak software foundation, Huawei smartphones have been low in net user recommendation value, Richard Yu wanted to increase software investment and found Wang Chenglu, whom he had worked with, and invited him to join the consumer business.
While working at the Central Software Institute, Chenglu was responsible for the development of Huawei's software infrastructure 1.0, including the operating system, database and programming framework.
The goal of the development was to give Huawei the ability to offer a complete suite of software solutions to customers beyond the hardware infrastructure.
HarmonyOS's distributed computing, distributed file system and distributed database technologies were all developed at the time," Wang Chenglu told Tencent News.
Wang Chenglu told Tencent News that the two years he spent at the Central Software Institute gave him a thorough understanding of basic software, and the more he learned, the more he understood the huge risks involved in building a business on someone else's platform.
During his time at Central Software Institute, he already had the idea to build HarmonyOS.
The word "HarmonyOS" is from "Shanhaijing", originally the name of a technical project established by the 2012 Lab Kernel team. When Wang Chenglu arrived at the consumer business, he has been pushing for making sure to make Huawei's own system and ecology.
Before starting to do the system and ecology, it is first necessary to clarify exactly what kind of system and ecology to do.
Around 2016, Huawei's mobile phone sales grew at a high rate, but any product has a cycle, and it is bound to peak after rapid growth, and Huawei's consumer business executives are already thinking about.
If handsets don't grow, where does the consumer business go from here?
At the time, smart devices such as bracelets, watches, and stereos made the industry generally aware of the promise of the IoT, but no one could see where the future was headed.
While some believed that mobile phones would replace most devices such as PCs and TVs, Wang Chenglu and team argued that it would be difficult to completely replace other devices.
"If they can't replace, then why not let them synergize with each other?" Wang Chenglu argues that this consensus is where HarmonyOS came from, "HarmonyOS was designed from the beginning to think of various ways to connect multiple devices and integrate them into one."
There are two different voices within Huawei, with Richard Yu endorsing the direction of HarmonyOS, but worrying about the potential challenges of implementing some specific features, such as jitter, interference and bandwidth issues that need to be addressed in the phone's screen casting.
In May 2016, HarmonyOS officially began development in the Consumer Business Software Division.
The initial R&D team for HarmonyOS came from the Technology Planning and Pre-Research Department under the Software Division, a department of about 100 people that is responsible for thinking about the direction of software development over the next three to five years, including collaboration with outside parties, the equivalent of Huawei's eyes.
If Huawei determines that a technology is feasible, the research department is responsible for making a prototype first.
In late 2016, after completing EMUI 5.0 delivery, Wang Chenglu shared HarmonyOS for the first time at a consumer business conference.
The meeting is a tradition across Huawei's business units, where people imagine a topic to challenge themselves and give them ideas to expand.
Wang Chenglu's topic was ecology, and he wanted to lay the groundwork for his colleagues to understand what ecology is.
However, HarmonyOS' internal debut didn't cause much of a stir, "People just felt that it seemed to be heading in a good direction," said Wang Chenglu.
In May 2017, the HarmonyOS kernel 1.0 completed technical validation. At this point, the perception of HarmonyOS within Huawei remained lukewarm, "people felt that it was a usable technology, that it would be better used in our products, and that was it."
The turnaround came shortly after when Wang Chenglu first demonstrated the system prototype at an OCT conference, and the value of HarmonyOS began to be felt internally at Huawei.
As the system prototype continued to be refined, in March 2018, shortly after Wang Chenglu reported to Ren Zhengfei in Beijing, HarmonyOS was officially approved for Huawei's consumer business, and the curtain officially opened on HarmonyOS development.
In May 2018, HarmonyOS kernel 2.0 was used for terminal TEE.
Wang Chenglu told Tencent News that if you look at it from a purely technical point of view, HarmonyOS system would have met the requirements to be on mobile phones at that time. The reason why it hasn't been used on mobile phones is that it takes time to solve the application ecology issues, and also because of the partnership with Google.
A few days later, on May 24, Wang Chenglu attended an important internal meeting at Huawei. By this time, the ZTE incident had been fermenting for more than a month, and Huawei's senior management had decided that the company had only a one-year window at most.
As a result, the development of HarmonyOS picked up speed, Wang Chenglu and the team were able to quickly fill in the gaps in the end-side technology, and the system framework quickly reached a basic usable level.
"People say we did HarmonyOS because of the sanctions, but we didn't, we did it before, but the sanctions made us speed up," Wang Chenglu told Tencent News.
For a long time, HarmonyOS has been kept in absolute secrecy, and even within Huawei, only a few employees and company executives know about it. Unlike other "spare tire" projects, Huawei's strict secrecy about HarmonyOS has a very real consideration - Google.
Although Android is an open-source operating system, its use requires compliance with two Google protocols: the Android Compatibility Agreement (ACC) and the Mobile Application Development Agreement (MADA).
The former requires that the user's software be compatible with Android, while the latter is directly related to the user's ability to obtain GMS support.
After more than a decade, Android has become a very mature and stable operating system, while GMS has a rich application ecosystem, so Huawei is naturally willing to continue using Google.
However, the external environment has changed beyond many people's expectations.
On May 16, 2019, the boots finally landed, Google then stopped providing GMS (Google Mobile Services) support to Huawei, and the late-starting HMS (Huawei Terminal Cloud Service) became a weakness for Huawei's expansion into overseas terminal markets.
A few days after 5.16, Huawei's top management decided to mobilize the company's strength to attack Song Shan Lake base in Dongguan, which was called "Song Lake Battle" in Huawei.
Huawei set up the Song Lake Operations Command, HarmonyOS and HMS were also put together to discuss, involving operating systems and application ecology.
But whether the "Battle of Pine Lake" will be successful or not, no one knows.
To the outside world, this "battle" involving thousands of people in the department with an unknown future seems rather tragic, but Wang Chenglu feels more of a very excited state.
"To be honest, we are all very excited. Sanctions are a challenge, but the opportunities are greater. Those of us in software still want to do more things that are challenging and can bring more value, and this opportunity is very rare."
Without the sanctions, HarmonyOS may never have come out," Wang Chenglu admitted.
After several meetings during the "Battle of the Pine Lakes", Huawei decided to release HarmonyOS 1.0 (HarmonyOS) at its developer conference (HDC) in a few months' time.
Huawei was the first to put HarmonyOS on the smart screen, because the number of application ecosystems for smart screens is small, and as a large terminal, HarmonyOS can be verified by the whole system.
However, because of the partnership with Google, the system experience of the smart screen is not fully open.
On August 9, 2019, Huawei officially announced HarmonyOS 1.0 at the 2019 HDC, and Richard Yu announced at the press conference that HarmonyOS would be open-sourced, which became the biggest news of the day regarding HarmonyOS.
The core of open source is the business model, Wang Chenglu told Tencent News, adding that before May 16 last year, Huawei had many internal discussions about whether to open-source HarmonyOS, whether to choose the Android or iOS model and finally decided to open source because Huawei wanted to make an ecology.
After deciding to open source HarmonyOS, Wang Chenglu's work over the past year has been largely focused on this, "There was no (open source) environment at that time, and we didn't have the code or talent. We talked and communicated with our partners, and then with the relevant government agencies, because it's not just a matter of putting the code on the server. What are the operating rules of the open-source community? Only with good operating rules, there is hope for open source systems to empower all walks of life."
The OpenAtom Foundation, the first open-source software foundation in China, was officially established on June 15, which didn't attract much attention at the time. But Wang Chenglu says Huawei, the main promoter and initiator of the foundation, and his team did a lot of work behind the scenes.
"Setting up hosting data centers, servers, and testing them after building them to see if there are any problems with the volume coming up and what to do if there are attacks, all this year has been doing back-and-forth verification, which is why the HarmonyOS open-source code has not been uploaded until today."
On September 10, Huawei announced HarmonyOS 2.0 at the 2020 HDC, and at 6:18 p.m., the HarmonyOS code donated to the aforementioned foundation was made available for open download.
Wang Chenglu has been paying attention to the number of visits to the code, and by midnight that night, the total number of visits to HarmonyOS official website exceeded 5 million, and the total number of open-source code downloads exceeded 6,000, which made him and his team breathe a sigh of relief.
A year ago, the HarmonyOS operating system was launched, and many people marveled at Huawei's sense of worry and its determination to break new ground in difficult times.
However, the progress after the release of HarmonyOS 1.0 has not been as good as expected, with the smart screen installed first being considered by some users as imperceptible and the "PPT operating system" questioned.
The external environment has become increasingly challenging over the past year, and Huawei is finally making good on its promises at the conference.
Wang Chenglu told Tencent News that some users will be able to upgrade HarmonyOS in January or February next year and that the initial upgrade will be validated for a few months before the full upgrade is released.
However, HarmonyOS itself is not an OS for mobile phones, but for all IoT devices.
In Huawei's definition, HarmonyOS will become the software infrastructure for the IoT Internet of Things, which can also be understood as a common operating system for all smart devices.
Wang Chenglu said he wants users to understand that once a phone is equipped with HarmonyOS, it is no longer a phone in the traditional sense and consumers can choose to assemble their own hardware according to their work and life needs.
And for developers, the HarmonyOS ecosystem opens up a huge imagination.
In addition to the open-source of HarmonyOS Phase 1 code, Wang Chenglu also announced during the conference the opening of the complete development toolchain for developers, including compilers, HUAWEI DevEco, HarmonyOS application frameworks, APIs, and more.
"Our thriving tech industry can easily wither and die in an instant because our industry has no roots, especially the software industry. Without programming frameworks, compilers, and tools, it's not even called an ecology or an operating system, and only with these components can we form the root of the system and ecology, and only with these roots can the whole system and ecology be successful ......" Wang Chenglu said during his speech on the same day.
Wang Chenglu told Tencent News that building root technology has been a common view within Huawei.
From Ren Zhengfei, who has been visiting universities recently and repeatedly stressing the importance of basic research, to Richard Yu, who urged the industry to join forces to breakthrough at the China IT 100 conference, it is clear that Huawei is speeding up on this path.
The word "HarmonyOS" is from "The Book of Mountains and Seas", the name of a technical project originally initiated by the 2012 lab kernel team. It was named "Ark", and later the world began to speculate that Huawei's self-developed operating system was named "HarmonyOS", and "HarmonyOS" became the name of the set. The final name of the operating system.
"HarmonyOS" means a pioneer in Chinese culture, and Huawei hopes to start a new era in the mobile industry with this system.
This will certainly take time to prove. Right now, however, Huawei has moved full steam ahead to build the HarmonyOS ecosystem, announcing that HarmonyOS 2.0 is open to all southbound hardware manufacturers and northbound application developers, which Wang Chenglu says is the first step toward empowering third-party partners.
Wang Chenglu is not worried about the willingness and cost of developers to migrate to the HarmonyOS platform, he believes, "If the development benefits of an ecosystem far outweigh the costs, all costs are not a problem. Almost all application innovation over the past decade or so has been based on mobile phone hardware, which is now essentially at its limits, and the greatest value of HarmonyOS is that it creates an innovative possibility for applications that is free from the limitations of mobile phone hardware."
"No one can extinguish a starry sky, every developer is a spark that Huawei wants to gather, and a spark can start a prairie fire." This is what Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's consumer business, had to say at the 2020 Huawei Developer Conference, which was the theme of this year's Huawei Developer Conference.
No one could have imagined that HarmonyOS, which has faced many challenges since its inception, would one day receive such a huge amount of attention.
Now, at this particular time when Huawei's hardware is suffering, HarmonyOS and its unfinished ecosystem have been entrusted with a bigger mission and need to take on more responsibility.
Wang Chenglu said, "This gives the company more time and energy to focus on software, and when the software environment and mindset is established, Huawei will become a stronger company in the future once the hardware comes back in full force.”
Source: Tencent News