The end of Java boulevard?

This post is hopefully the last in continuation to Pune’s 1st Mini Debian Conference #MiniDebconfIndia specifically in connection with the distributed computing projects and specifically SETI@home. This post is part of events which happened on Day 1.

Couple of interesting articles appeared in the newspaper today.

1. Designer pirates: Copyright in fashion runs counter to the way creativity works in the industry.

2. Oracle sues Google over Android Software

The second is the one I want to talk about today. In brief, Oracle is suing Google for using Java which is part of the business that Oracle acquired from Sun Microsystems last year. And as owners they are claiming patent and copyright infringment on Java. This suit has quite a bit of financial and technical implications for both Developers and users alike in the short-term as well as long-term. I would start by giving a short background/history of Java and surroundings around it and then see what future it seems from now on.

Disclosure :- Before I do start this is a non-developer perspective. I have just used Java (the JRE) but never done any development work on it so please all/any words/statements I say with a grain of salt.

Java has had a somewhat long and tumultuous history since I started using and knowing about it. It was born dynamic but later acquired the bureaucratic structure which ultimately lead to the demise of Sun Microsystems. Its main USP (Unique Selling Point) was that theoretically one could write software for it and have it run anywhere, i.e. wherever the JRE was present/installed and working. For a long time they resisted open-sourcing the code for development. Enter GNU Classpath and Apache Harmony two Java implementations which threatened the monopoly of Sun Java. Apache in particular quickly had a good fan following. Following/Seeing this threat, Sun Microsystems announced in May 2006 that Java would become free and open source and they came true to their promise on May 2008 as making it GPL and later some parts of the library as OpenJDK.

Now although it became politically correct FOSS, it was peculiar in the sense that unlike many other FOSS projects, to make contributions to the project was a big winding path. The other odd thing perhaps was the GPL linking exception license that the project followed. Then in April last year Oracle announced its intention to acquire Sun Microsystems. There was another bid from IBM few weeks just before Oracle announced its bid but that deal fell apart. These moves were in part due to bad business decisions/practices/strategies followed at Sun Microsystems – both in hardware as well as software. FSF had been vociferous about the Oracle-Sun Microsystems from the very beginning and had called for splitting MySQL. They had many other concerns for reasons known to EU only, they passed the merger. Now in hindsight what FSF was saying is proving to be correct. The open-source community and especially Eben Moglen were supportive of the deal. Again, expected as the Open Source Community is thought to be more of businessmen (nothing wrong with that) and that sometimes lead to short gain analysis rather than long-term freedom (controversial statement perhaps). There is possibility that some of the members might have been ambivalent to the deal but most of them chose to be silent on the deal.

Cut to today and Oracle is suing Google and frankly its a tricky situation. If you read CNET’s take on the situation things might not be black and white as they seem. Although this might have significant financial implications for us. For e.g. if Google loses this then there is lot of possibility that Android device prices go up. Also all Java phones pricing goes up. Small mom and pop shops as well as medium development houses who are exclusively Java development shops (quite a few of those in Bengaluru and Hyderabad) stand to lose their advantage or stand to outgo huge licensing fees. For my simple mind, license fees being paid for a development software means possibility of Free (as in beer) applications are going to be more scarce. In the end, we all suffer 😦

Just my 2 paise

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