Java frenzy runs unabated, but is there really anything to worry about?

A cool-headed look at the Android and Java shenanigans suggests that Oracle isn't about to hurt the platform

In recent weeks, we've seen what looks like an absolute state of frenzy in the Java space. It almost seems like the sky is falling.

While I don't anticipate major negative impacts on Java as a whole from the flurry of activity, news headlines could easily make developers think Java is in a state of turmoil.

[ More interested in using Java than worryig about it? Subscribe to InfoWorld's JavaWorld Enterprise Java newsletter. ]

First off, Oracle is suing Google, alleging Java IP misuse in the Android mobile platform. Google, in turn, backed out of the upcoming, Oracle-driven JavaOne conference, citing the lawsuit as an attack on open source itself.

Others also are questioning the impact of the lawsuit on open source. (Java was open-sourced in late 2006 by Sun Microsystems.)

Meanwhile, Java dignitary James Gosling, long considered the father of Java, is imploring Oracle to form a separate, vendor-neutral body to oversee Java. He even designed T-shirts to promote the cause of freeing Java from Oracle. Gosling, of course, left Oracle after just a few months of working for the company, following a long tenure at Sun.

Oracle is being made into the heavy in this battle, although Google is not exactly playing David to Oracle's Goliath here. They are both Goliaths.

Despite its litigation against Google, I don't anticipate Oracle becoming heavy-handed in how it allows Java to be used. As I've said before, there are many cooks in the Java kitchen, with important Java technologies, such as the Spring Framework, happening outside the jurisdiction of Oracle and, before that, Sun.

Rather than viewing the lawsuit as an attack on open source, analyst Al Hilwa described it as a "standard [intellectual property] protection lawsuit and protection of the value of Java from fragmentation."

He's right. An essential selling point of Java has been its write-once, run-anywhere capability for certified Java software. It all should run on a Java virtual machine on any platform. But Android attempts an end run around the Java certification process while still being Java-like.

It appears that Oracle is looking to make more money off of Java than Sun ever did. Sun's prowess (more accurately, its lack thereof) at monetizing Java had been a question mark for years. Oracle, however, does not seem to have had any problems making money. That's given Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, for his part, the wherewithal to become widely known for the pricey sport of yacht racing and for being narrowly thwarted recently in his attempt to buy the Golden State Warriors NBA basketball team.

Java license fees have been estimated at about $200 million annually. There could be a risk that Oracle might try to jack up this figure substantially, making Java too pricey. But Oracle has long been an advocate of Java, and pricing it out of the market wouldn't make sense, especially when there are so many alternatives in the form of scripting languages and, of course, rival Microsoft's software development technologies. Oracle would not want to send developers running toward Microsoft's outstretched arms.

There are an estimated 6 to 7 million Java developers worldwide and an estimated 850 million-plus PCs with Java on them. Oracle will want to grow this base rather than stifle it.

As far as open source, I just don't think Oracle is going to kill off the movement -- or wants to. Open source is all over the place, and one company is not likely to end it. There's the Apache Software Foundation, Eclipse Foundation, and countless others -- Microsoft, even -- that profess their loyalty to open source.

Still, it should be fun to watch whether Oracle and Google agree to settle their differences, perhaps with Google throwing some money Oracle's way. Or, they might duke it out in court.

If there is no settlement, Oracle's lawsuit could impact Android. If Oracle prevails in the litigation, Google could have to pony up some dough to Oracle, license Java, or switch out any Java-descended components of the platform. That ought to be disconcerting to developers.

But we can all remain calm. Everything in this situation will work itself out and the sun (though no longer Sun) will still rise the next morning.

This article, "Java frenzy runs unabated, but is there really anything to worry about?," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

How to choose a low-code development platform