The end of Android as we know it

Given three major threats brewing, it's hard to see how Google's Android sustains its momentum any longer

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Threat No. 3: A likely loss in the Oracle lawsuit over Android's Java base

The trial that began last week over Oracle's claims that Google stole the Java APIs for use in Google's underlying Dalvik JVM has been a fascinating Silicon Valley soap opera, mainly for the spectacle of former Sun Microsystems execs testify against Google in favor of Oracle. Never mind that Sun's culture -- like Google's -- was pro-open source, and that many Sun employees have been bitter about Oracle's takeover in the name of making money, not one of Sun's core skills.

Cnet's Dan Farber has a nice wrap-up of the testimony from Sun execs, including founder Scott McNealy, former CEO Jonathan Schwartz, and Java founder James Gosling. In a nutshell, all three claim that Google was wrong to use the APIs without a license from Sun. Where they differ is whether Google was legally obligated to have done so, with Schwartz saying in essence that Google should have but couldn't be compelled to legally, given how it worked around the law. The other two say bluntly that Google was legally in the wrong, but acknowledge Sun wasn't the kind of company to go after infringers. All three testified basically that Sun gritted its teeth but said nothing publicly.

Oracle, of course, is not that kind of company. It's as fearless and profit-driven as Apple, and it's more willing to brawl in public.

I fully expect Oracle to pull off a victory in this case, as it did when the company sued SAP a couple years ago. At first, its claimed received a skeptical reception, but Oracle proved them in embarrassing detail. The same pattern seems to be occurring here. (The lawsuit has deeper implications on all software developers. My colleagues Simon Phipps, Neil McAllister, and Bill Snyder have done insightful analyses on these implications.)

Oracle won $1.3 billion from SAP and could win as big a settlement from Google -- wiping out all of its Android revenues to date. Plus, Google's future revenues per device would be subject to a commission to Oracle, leaving Android no more profitable to Google than iOS, Windows Phone, or any other platform. Additionally, those device makers who now pay no licensing fees to Google will likely have to pay either Google or Oracle, removing one of their chief benefits from using Android. Both results would take away much of Google's financial motivation to stay invested in Android.

Assuming Google loses the trial, the damage to the company will be more than monetary. Google's behavior as shown by the emails and other evidence so far presented is not that of a company that does no evil. In the last year, it's been clear that Google's public morality is not matched internally. The intentionality of avoiding a Java license from Sun shows how Google's execs at all levels are nothing like the saints they like to present themselves at. That revelation is much more damaging than visibly and consistently playing the role of a hardball business exec or an unpleasant manager, as Apple's Steve Jobs and Oracle's Larry Ellison are known. With Jobs and Ellison, you knew what you got and could respect that they made no pretense about who they were.

Much of Google's fan base comes from people who admire the open source movement behind Android and the "do no evil" slogan associated with the company. But we keep seeing that this is mere marketing fiction, creating a disappointment in customers attracted to Google for its ostensible ethics. Once you lose that, you can rarely regain it. Even if Google wins this lawsuit, these cynical business practices remain exposed.

Although such true believers form a small minority of the Android user base, they tend to be its leading evangelists. When the preachers leave, the congregation tends to disband.

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