What to expect from Gosling at Google

Google has lots of Java projects in the works, but the search giant and Java's creator don't always see eye to eye

When James Gosling resigned from his position at Oracle last April, it wasn't exactly for greener pastures. "I truly don't know what I'm going to do next," the "Father of Java" wrote in his blog. "I didn't leave Oracle because I had some next great thing to go to. I'm feeling pretty burned out and trashed, so the only thing I know for certain is that I'll be taking some time off."

Gosling became an Oracle employee not by choice but by fiat, when the database giant acquired Sun Microsystems in 2009. Although he initially expressed optimism about the future of Java under Oracle's stewardship, he soon grew disillusioned. Feeling marginalized in his new role and uncomfortable with Oracle's corporate culture, he would go on to become one of the company's more vocal critics, even going as far as to launch a T-shirt campaign urging Oracle to honor its promises to the Java community.

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If Oracle is listening, it has shown few signs. But if anyone was afraid Java's creator would retire a disenfranchised activist (or a hot dog vendor, as he joked on his blog), they can breathe easier this week, with the announcement that Gosling's self-imposed sabbatical has come to an end. His new home? None other than Google.

That's the where. The what, on the other hand, remains an open question. Gosling himself says he doesn't know what he'll be working on. IDC analyst Al Hilwa suspects the hire is mostly so that Google can gain "a position of thought leadership and mindshare" among the Java community, describing Gosling as "a feather in [Google's] cap." But companies that offer compensation packages as generous as Google's tend to expect their employees to work for a living. So what exactly will James Gosling be doing in his new role at Google?

Lots of opportunities at Google
Obviously Gosling has a lot of expertise to bring to the table. For starters, his experience with programming language design makes him a valuable asset.

Although Google is generally thought of as a search-engine company and the majority of its revenue comes from ad sales, running a Web business of Google's scale is no mean feat. Over the years the search giant has developed countless tools and technologies to support its infrastructure. One such tool is a programming language called Sawzall -- developed by Google staffers Rob Pike and Robert Griesemer, among others -- which the company uses internally to analyze massive data sets, such as its server logs.

More recently, Pike and Griesemer have joined Ken Thompson in developing a new Google-sponsored language called Go. Go aims to usher in "a new programming paradigm" that makes it easier for developers to write parallel-processing software. Nonetheless, it can very much be considered a "post-Java language," in the same sense that Java could be considered a successor to C. Griesemer even previously worked on the compiler for the Java HotSpot VM. Gosling could potentially have a lot to offer this project.

Another likely candidate is Android. Mobile devices had long been a key part of Sun's Java strategy; according to Oracle's figures, 3 billion phones run Java. And Gosling has been directly involved with Java projects involving mobile and embedded devices. Among other things, since leaving Oracle, he's helped out with the control system for the Audi TTS. Doubtless he has plenty of experience to bring to bear on shaping Google's Java-based mobile OS. What's more, as a Sun insider, Gosling could be instrumental in constructing a defense against Oracle's lawsuit against Google over alleged patent violations in Android.

Can Gosling and Google see eye to eye?
As valuable as his experience might be to Google, however, it's not totally clear that Gosling will be a good fit at the search giant any more than he was at Oracle. In fact, his views seem to clash with the prevailing thought at Google in a surprising number of ways.

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