Oracle is suing Google over the use of Java in the Android mobile operating system. Oracle is shutting down OpenSolaris, the open-source project that Sun started a few years ago to build community involvement with its Solaris dialect of Unix.

Our feelings are mixed about these items.

While we’re unable to judge the legal merits of Oracle’s patent-infringement claims about Java, we are dismayed that Oracle would apparently attempt to stifle the emergence of a vibrant mobile platform. Perhaps Oracle is merely unhappy that Android’s Java is based on Java SE, which means that Oracle can’t make any money on it directly. After all, Sun intended Java ME to be the basis of Java runtimes embedded in small devices, and the use of Java ME requires a paid commercial license. In any case, we hope that however this lawsuit is settled, it does not limit the functionality or viability of Android.

By contrast, we’re not overly dismayed about the demise of OpenSolaris. While we’re generally in favor of open-source projects, since the creation of OpenSolaris back in 2005, it has always been messy. Solaris itself is based on the decidedly proprietary Unix SVR4. We never understood why Sun, which, after all, was a Unix SVR4 licensee, felt the need to create an open-source operating system was an essentially a clean-room clone of Solaris. If you want Unix, use Unix. If you want something that’s open source but Unix-like, there are many mature, stable variations of Linux and BSD to choose from.

While Solaris has been lauded for its stability, scalability and performance, there simply never seemed to be a market need for an open-source clone of it. There was no problem that OpenSolaris was solving and no opportunity that OpenSolaris was creating. We don’t blame Oracle for quietly shutting it down. While we wish the Illumos “fork” of OpenSolaris good luck, frankly, we don’t think the software development industry will be affected one way or another.

The big question, though, is what’s next from Oracle regarding Sun’s software technology, particularly its open-source projects? The sole Java innovation so far has been a high-profile lawsuit. The single Solaris advancement has been to shut down OpenSolaris. No word yet on what will happen with MySQL, Glassfish and many other popular projects. Perhaps we’ll find out at Oracle OpenWorld, which encompasses not only Oracle’s traditional Develop conference, but also JavaOne.

The accessible Web
Until you’ve watched a handicapped person use the Internet, it’s hard to appreciate how difficult today’s websites can be for the partially sighted, or for blind users who must use screen readers.

The good news is that many relatively static websites can be manipulated by the handicapped without too much trouble. The bad news is that so-called Web 2.0 technologies, including AJAX and other RIAs, can totally disrupt screen readers and other accessibility devices.

Further, most Web developers are unaware of the challenges that the handicapped face when using their software. Unless there’s a personal connection or the organization makes a specific effort to comply with accessibility requirements (such as the United States guidelines often referred to as Section 508), there’s generally no design for accessibility, and no testing either.

In fairness, though, even if a Web development team wanted to make sure that all software was accessible, it was hard to know exactly what to do, or to measure how good a job you were doing. That’s where the W3C has done an excellent job with the second version of its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The OpenAjax Alliance has provided invaluable assistance with its JavaScript rules, based on the WCAG.

Our hats go off to both the W3C and the OAA for their work in the accessibility area. We encourage development teams, even those who are not legally required to provide Section 508-accessible websites (or their equivalents), to pay attention to these developments. It’s the right thing to do.