Apple not Android is killing client-side Java – so why is Oracle suing Google?

Oracle is suing Google over Java in Android; the Register has a link to the complaint itself which lists seven patents which Oracle claims Google has infringed. There is also a further clause which says Google has infringed copyright in the:

code, specifications, documentation and other materials) that is copyrightable subject matter

and that it is not possible for a device manufacturer to create an Android device without infringing Oracle’s copyrights. Oracle is demanding stern penalties including destruction of all infringing copies – I presume this might mean destruction of all Android devices, though as we all know lawyers routinely demand more than they expect to win, as a negotiating position.

But isn’t Java open source? It is; but licensing is not simple, and “open source” does not mean “non-copyright”. You can read the Java open source licensing statements here. I am not a licensing expert; but one of the key issues with Google’s use of Java in Android is that it is not quite Java. Oracle’s complaint says:

Google’s Android competes with Oracle America’s Java as an operating system software platform for cellular telephones and other mobile devices. The Android operating system software “stack” consists of Java applications running on a Java-based object-oriented application framework, and core libraries running on a “Dalvik” virtual machine (VM) that features just-in-time (JIT) compilation.

Note that Oracle says “Java-based”. Binaries compiled for Android will not run on other JVM implementations. I am no expert on open source licensing; but if Google is using Java in ways that fall outside what is covered by the open source license, then that license does not apply.

Despite the above, I have no idea whether Oracle’s case has legal merit. It is interesting though that Oracle is choosing to pursue Google; and I have some sympathy given that Java’s unique feature has always been interoperability and cross-platform, which Android seems to break to some extent.

James Gosling’s post on the subject is relevant:

When Google came to us with their thoughts on cellphones, one of their core principles was making the platform free to handset providers. They had very weak notions of interoperability, which, given our history, we strongly objected to. Android has pretty much played out the way that we feared: there is enough fragmentation among Android handsets to significantly restrict the freedom of software developers.

though he adds:

Don’t interpret any of my comments as support for Oracle’s suit. There are no guiltless parties with white hats in this little drama. This skirmish isn’t much about patents or principles or programming languages. The suit is far more about ego, money and power.

The official approach to Java on devices is Java ME; and Java ME guys like Hinkmond Wong hate Android accordingly:

Heck, forget taking the top 10,000 apps, take the top Android 10 apps and try running all of them on every single Android device out there. Have you learned nothing at all from Java ME technology, Android? Even in our current state in Java ME, we are nowhere as fragmented as the last 5 Android releases in 12 months (1.5, 1.6, 2.0, 2.1 and recently 2.2).

Fair enough; but it is also obvious that Android has revived interest in client-side Java in a way that Sun failed to do despite years of trying. The enemy of client-side Java is not Android, but rather Apple: there’s no sign of Java on iPhone or iPad. Apple’s efforts have killed the notion of Java everywhere, given the importance of Apple’s mobile platform. Java needs Android, which makes this lawsuit a surprising one.

But what does Oracle want? Just the money? Or to force Google into a more interoperable implementation, for the benefit of the wider Java platform? Or to disrupt Android as a favour to Apple?

Anyone’s guess at the moment. I wonder if Google wishes it had acquired Sun when it had the chance?

Note: along with the links above, I like the posts on this subject from Redmonk’s Stephen O’Grady and Mono guy Miguel de Icaza.

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