The tech industry loves a good vendor slugfest, and the upcoming legal battle between Google and Oracle has all the makings of a truly spectacular one.
At issue is Dalvik, the unique, Java-based runtime at the heart of Google's Android smartphone OS. Oracle, which gained stewardship of the Java platform when it bought Sun Microsystems in 2009, claims Dalvik knowingly, willfully, and deliberately infringes on Java intellectual property. According to a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco last week, Oracle is seeking a halt to any further Android development, destruction of all infringing Android software, and for Google to pay damages, both actual and statutory.
[ InfoWorld's Martin Heller says Oracle will open a Pandora's box of evil if it wins this fight. | Keep your Java skills sharp with our JavaWorld Enterprise Java newsletter. ]
Bloggers, pundits, and developers wasted no time decrying the suit. Farata Systems' Anatole Tartakovsky wrote, "Oracle managers are clearly out of their minds." PC World's Tony Bradley described Oracle as a patent troll, while others made unflattering comparisons to the SCO Group. InfoWorld's own editor in chief, Eric Knorr, compared Oracle to Darth Vader and to Batman's nemesis the Joker in the same column.
Such knee-jerk reactions are misguided. Google is no Luke Skywalker, and its handling of Java has been questionable at best. To suggest that Oracle is being heavy-handed ignores the larger truth, which is that in recent years Sun's governance of Java has been meek and ineffective. In the absence of strong leadership, the Java community has been saddled with a slow and burdensome development process that has left the future of the platform in serious doubt. The complaint against Google is proof that Oracle aims to change all that -- and it could be just what the Java community needed.
Java in name only
Ironically, few companies have been as outspoken on the issue of Sun's failed leadership as Google. Speaking at the Red Hat Middleware 2020 virtual conference in April, Google chief Java architect Josh Bloch described the platform as "rudderless" and called on Oracle to take a lead role in steering its future direction. "Technical and licensing disputes over the last few years have been highly detrimental. They've sapped the energy of the community and caused plenty of bad press," Bloch said.