Enterprise Java: Oracle's real reason for suing Google?

Mobile and cloud are areas where Oracle wants to protect and grow Java licensing -- yet both are slipping into others' hands

By now you've read that Oracle has sued Google for patent and copyright infringement related to the Android platform. Google has responded that the claims are baseless and counter to the open source community movement. In all the hullabaloo, the press, pundits, Oracle, and Google seem to have ignored the impact on enterprise Java.

Here's why IT decision-makers shouldn't ignore the enterprise Java impact.

[ InfoWorld's Neil McAllister makes the case how Oracle's suit against Google could help Java. InfoWorld's Martin Heller makes the case for why the Oracle-Google suit is bad for open source. | Keep up with the latest open source trends and news in InfoWorld's Technology: Open Source newsletter. ]

Oracle's Java ME revenue stream

InfoWorld's Neil McAllister summarizes the Oracle v. Google legal situation nicely:

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.

Freelance journalist Tim Anderson asks an interesting question: "Apple, not Android, is killing client-side Java -- so why is Oracle suing Google?"

The simple answer: Java licensing.

With Google claiming 200,000 Android device activations daily, it's plausible, as IDC and others have suggested, that Oracle is simply trying to get a piece of the Android revenue stream. Android is surely limiting Oracle's revenue potential from licensing Java Micro Edition (Java ME) to device manufacturers, as Android has essentialy displaced Java ME on smartphones.

While Oracle does not split out its Java licensing revenue (and neither did Sun, for that matter), Peter Goldmacher, an analyst at Cowen and Co., estimates the figure to be $250 million annually. This total includes revenue from licensing the multiple editions of Java, including Java ME, Java Standard Edition (Java SE), and Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE). It's pretty obvious that a $250 million revenue stream is worth protecting, not to mention worth trying to grow.

Google's threat to Oracle's Java EE control

I propose a more complex, less obvious answer to the question of why Oracle is suing Google: because Oracle wants a tighter reign over Java EE. I'd hazard a guess that a non-insignificant piece of the $250 million Java licensing revenue estimate is driven by Java EE licensing. With mobile and cloud being two major investment areas for vendors and enterprises, Oracle likely wants to see a growing use of compliant Java usage - via appropriate licensing through Oracle - in the mobile and cloud arenas.

Enterprises have invested billions in Java EE technology over the past decade based on the value of open standards and multiple implementations of those standards. The ability to migrate among Java EE vendors has helped minimize fears of vendor lock-in.

However, Java EE's portability value proposition has come under scrutiny from the likes of Google App Engine (GAE) and VMforce from EMC VMware and Salesforce.com. Google clearly states that only a subset of Java EE APIs are supported on GAE. VMforce uses a set of APIs that are only available through Salesforce.com.

The fact that both platforms are cloud-based and not Java EE-compliant likely hasn't gone unnoticed by Oracle. The cloud appears to be -- or at least has a potential of being -- an environment where customers are willing to trade productivity and TCO for the higher degree of vendor lock-in associated with a cloud platform as a service.

Oracle's Java EE licensing would be hurt if avoiding vendor lock-in becomes a lower priority for enterprises, thereby minimizing the need for vendors to claim Java EE compatibility. Android's success could made lock-in acceptable for mobile "Java," and GAE and VMforce are trying to do the same in the cloud.

Additionally, Microsoft, a non-Java-ecosystem vendor, has been dipping its toes in the Java ecosystem. For example, Tomcat applications can now be deployed on Azure. It shouldn't surprise anyone if Microsoft were to deliver an optimized Tomcat or Java EE experience on Azure in the future. If and when this occurs, Oracle would surely like to be involved, from a licensing standpoint.

What's next for Java?

Some have questioned what this suit means to the future of Java. For example, RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady makes a prediction as to the outcome of Oracle vs. Google:

Whoever wins will also lose. This suit is going to negatively impact -- probably substantially -- Java adoption. The enterprise technology landscape is more fragmented by the day, as it transitions from .Net or Java orthodoxy to multilanguage heterogeneity.

To a degree, this isn't new news. Sun had been planning for the day where multiple programming languages are able to run alongside the Java language on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). Higher up the Java stack, Java EE vendors have been trying to support popular Java-based programming models such as OSGi and scripting languages such as PHP and Groovy within their Java EE products. As O'Grady points out, the days of "Java" being the answer to every project are long gone. The ability to select the programming language and programming model best aligned with the project at hand is quickly becoming a differentiator in the Java EE market.

While the Oracle-Google suit is a distraction and potentially a concern for the Java vendor ecosystem, the future of Java the platform is and has been much broader than the actions of its controlling entity, whether it's Sun or Oracle.

Continue to choose open standards and multiple implementations

Whatever the resolution and however long it takes, IT decision-makers would be wise to minimize risk by selecting offerings that support open standards for which multiple implementations exist. This is timeless advice and worth repeating, especially as customers consider cloud platform investments.

Follow me on Twitter at SavioRodrigues. I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions."

This article, "Protecting enterprise Java: Oracle's real reason for suing Google?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Rodrigues et al.'s Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com.

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