On the outside, Oracle would seem to be doing everything outsiders had feared: The company has shut down OpenSolaris, lost a number of high-profile employees such as James Gosling, and, as of August, has shown it is willing to litigate using its Java patents. But is Oracle actually harming Java’s image in the eyes of its users?
Despite the company’s patent lawsuit against Google, much of the current brouhaha over Java isn’t taking place inside corporate halls. Most of the discussions around Oracle’s actions have taken place online. Gosling’s blog, Nighthacks.com, has become a hotbed for speculation and discussion about Oracle and Java.
Gosling claimed that when he met with Oracle’s lawyers after the acquisition, they were deeply focused on what Google was doing with the Android platform. Gosling said Oracle’s lawyers were specifically looking for patents for litigation purposes.
But Amit Pandey, CEO of Terracotta, said that he heard Sun was preparing such litigation even before the Oracle acquisition. “I think Oracle basically picked up where Sun left off. My understanding was this litigation was ready to go,” he said.
If that’s the case, then Gosling’s claim that “patent litigation wasn’t in Sun’s blood” would seem to be incorrect.
While Oracle’s lawsuit against Google may not be scaring away Java developers—not to mention the shroud of secrecy surrounding Oracle’s future plans for the platform and language—there is still a great deal of uncertainty left in its wake. Oracle’s efforts with the OpenJDK are not helping to assuage fears, either.
Mark Reinhold, Oracle’s lead on the OpenJDK project, posted on his corporate blog in mid-September about the status of the OpenJDK. In that posting, he wrote that the OpenJDK wouldn’t be completed until late 2011 or early 2012. He did say that only a few of the new pieces of the JDK would require this extra time, such as project Coin, an effort to implement small language changes across Java. He added that the OpenJDK could be used today if developers didn’t want to wait for the additional work to be done.
That would seem to be the only area in which Java is currently evolving, however. Rod Johnson, director of the SpringSource business unit at VMware and member of the Java Community Process’ executive committee, said that the JCP is all but dead at present.
“There’s been very little activity on the executive committee. I think we just have to wait and see what Oracle comes up with for JavaOne,” he said. “The rest of the world is moving along fairly quickly. It’s not like we need Oracle or the EC of the JCP to get things done.”
With the old world of Java effectively in stasis, the future is squarely in the hands of open-source projects, said Johnson. He pointed out that Apache has been a major influencer in Java recently, thanks to the Hadoop, Harmony and Tomcat projects hosted there.
Indeed, Harmony has only become more relevant since the lawsuit began. And despite the danger of further litigation, the project’s creator, Geir Magnusson Jr., said he’s confident Oracle won’t find holes in Harmony’s intellectual property armor.
“When we were building Harmony, the intent was to build a complete compatible and performant implementation of the Java specification,” he said. “We took incredible care to make sure our implementation was completely independent and didn’t use any Sun source code. And we took great effort to ensure people who had worked on Sun source code did not contribute to the project in any area where they had been working on Sun’s code. We didn’t want anyone to be able to make a claim that we had infringed on Sun’s intellectual property.”
Add to that the fact that the OpenJDK provides patent litigation protection to its users, and the recipe for Java terror is not so enticing any more.
“Certainly Oracle is an aggressive company. Lawsuits like this always give pause. Everyone is sort of sitting on the edge of their seat right now, waiting to see what’s going to happen,” said Pandey. “Certainly stuff like this does not help. On the other hand, I think this one data point could be blown way out of proportion.”