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

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Along with C++ and Python, Java is one of the most prominent languages used at Google. But Google seldom seems satisfied with the stock JVM approach. For example, while the source code for many of Google's Web applications is written in Java, it's often compiled to JavaScript rather than Java bytecode, using the Google Web Toolkit (GWT). Android doesn't use the JVM, either, but a custom virtual machine called Dalvik that uses a unique, optimized bytecode format. And although Google App Engine allows developers to build cloud-based Java applications, it has been criticized for not supporting the full Java specification.

Such alternative approaches to the Java ecosystem don't always sit well with Gosling. In a 2010 interview with the Basement Coders, Gosling said, "Everything I care about is in the JVM." (Google doesn't seem to agree.) As for alternative virtual machines, Gosling said the .Net CLR -- which many developers perceive as Microsoft's attempt to improve on the JVM -- "basically cut and pasted from the Java spec" and that Microsoft "exercised essentially no creativity" in developing it. What must he think of Dalvik?

Of Android in general, Gosling has been generally pessimistic. He once told eWeek, "All these Android phones are going to be incompatible ... in the Android world there's kind of no adult in charge." And when it comes to Google's legal position, he's been even more blunt. In this Basement Coders interview, he said, "At Sun we'd done an analysis and yeah, there's a bunch of patents violated [by Android]." Having made such statements in the past, it seems unlikely he'll be called to testify on Google's behalf now.

A bit of everything
What exactly will Gosling's role be at Google? Probably the safest bet is Gosling's own hunch: "I expect it'll be a bit of everything, seasoned with a large dose of grumpy curmudgeon."

The idea that hiring Gosling will give Google a "thought leadership" position within the Java community is a nice one, but it seems unlikely that the search giant will be able to wield much influence over the Java platform when Oracle holds the reins so tightly. Gosling himself does not seem particularly optimistic about the future of Java as long as it remains in Oracle's hands.

On the other hand, Google, with its origins at Stanford University, is a fairly academic environment in some ways. Much like a university, it has a history of hiring "big brains" -- academics and computing luminaries -- solely for the level of quality they bring to its workforce. These hires are seldom strategic, and Google's "pet PhDs" are generally given long leashes. Nobody talks much about Google having a "thought leadership position in the Python community," for example -- and yet Guido van Rossum, the creator of Python, is a Google employee, where he devotes much of his time to Python development.

Should we expect big things from Gosling once he settles in at Google? It depends on what you mean. Anyone who expects Gosling to wield the might of Google to strike back against Oracle's dominance over the Java ecosystem is likely to be disappointed. On the other hand, if this move marks the beginning of a fulfilling, productive new chapter in Gosling's career -- whether it's in the public eye or behind the scenes -- it's sure to be a net win for everybody.

This article, "What to expect from Gosling at Google," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest news in programming at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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