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Oracle – now having purchased Sun – has sued Google over their custom Java virtual machine for the Android mobile platform. In doing so, Oracle has sent reverberations throughout the open source and Java communities.

Google took the Java APIs and enhanced and changed them – then created a virtual machine (called Dalvik) which runs a custom format executable. This was part of the Android software when it was introduced in November 2007, and there were many complaints about Google’s treatment of Java – including complaints from Sun itself. Google’s response at the time to Sun’s complaints was:

Google and the other members of the Open Handset Alliance are working to help solve fragmentation and supporting the developer community by creating Android, a mobile platform that responds to the needs of the developers, has the backing of industry leaders, and will be available as open source under a nonrestrictive license.

To break that statement down, Google was saying:

  • The Open Handset Alliance (not the Java Community Process or JCP) should be the Java stewards for mobile Java.
  • Android (and Android Java) responds to the needs of the developers.
  • Android is backed by industry.
  • Android is available as open source.
  • Android is available under a nonrestrictive license.
  • Java 2 Mobile Edition (J2ME) has none of these capabilities.

Don’t miss the fact that Google created the Open Handset Alliance at the same time, and serves mainly as a source for Android – though it has in recent days been seen as useless by some.

Sun (now Oracle) has had a mobile version of Java (known as J2ME) since before Android existed – but Google bypassed it (and the Java Community Process or JCP) when it created its own JVM. Dalvik executables, in fact, are created from Java binaries, thus involving Java itself in the process of creation and development.

It appears that Google’s Android Java implementation was a direct attack on the JCP and on J2ME. To use J2ME, Google would have had to license it, as it was not available under a license that would have allowed commercial closed-source development: it was under the GPL, but without the classpath exemption that the J2SE had. Because of this lack of the classpath exemption, any development on the standard J2ME platform would have to be released as source code under the GPL.

This action by Oracle fits perfectly into its public persona: consider that Sun’s Chief Open-Source Officer, Simon Phipps, was not even offered a position at Oracle at all. He is or was on the advisory boards for OpenSolaris, OpenJDK, and OpenSparc. Other distinguished Sun engineers have left, including Kohsuke Kawaguchi (chief developer of Hudson), Charles Nutter and Thomas Enobo (both lead developers of JRuby), Tim Bray (Director of Web Technologies – which includes Java and JRuby), and James Gosling (creator of Java). It is notable that all of these people except Simon Phipps are luminaries in the Java realm at Sun. It is as if the Java engineers left wholesale once Oracle was about to take over.

Coverage of the lawsuit has been extensive. Stephen Shankland over at CNet has a story about why Oracle may have chosen to sue. Stephen O’Grady over at RedMonk may have one of the best in-depth analyses of this conflict out there. Groklaw has committed to following the lawsuit through the courts, and has an excellent introductory piece on the lawsuit. Steven Vaughn-Nichols suggests that this lawsuit is only the beginning, and that JBoss, Apache Jakarta, and the JCP better watch out (though I disagree).

From when Google introduced Android and its associated virtual machine, Dalvik, Stefano Mazzochi had one of the most complete explanations of what Google was doing and its implications.

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