The Oracle/Google Suit Is the Anti-Open Move Of the Year
Late Thursday, Oracle filed a complaint for patent and copyright infringement against Google, regarding parts of the Java code found in Google's Android mobile OS. The suit is drawing many interpretations, but one thing that seems very clear about it is that Oracle is doing exactly what developers were hoping it wouldn't do as it swallowed up Sun Microsystems. Oracle clearly sees Java as a platform--one it wants to have a moat around--and this suit could be the first of several regarding Java. The suit is the anti-open move of the year.
Just yesterday, Gartner released data that showed that Android will become the clear number two smartphone OS in the world, overtaking Research in Motion. But Android's momentum, and the open source success story that it is, have been known for some time now. The value that Oracle placed on Java was clear the instant it announced its intention to buy Sun Microsystems. While Sun had countless open source applications and platforms, Oracle CEO made clear then that he considered Java the crown jewel of the acquisition.
You can view the claims of patent infringement that Oracle is making here. As CNet notes there, "Java has been forked and fragmented" many times. That's what Sun intended for it in the first place--for it to be a malleable, flexible platform. While not purely open source, Java was always overseen in such a way to protect its malleabillity. Now, Oracle appears to see it as a mobile platform, akin to the mobile OS that Android is.
This is a shame, and exactly the kind of anti-innovation Silicon Valley behavior that isn't needed as the economic downturn continues to pelt technology companies and everyone else. I agree wholeheartedly with Dana Blankenhorn that the suit "challenges the whole open source establishment." It is a classic case of a proprieteary software player running roughshod over free, open principles.
Without a doubt, this suit will result in truckloads of bad PR for Oracle. More worrisome, though, is the effect this and further actions will have on Java development going forward. How many tolls is Oracle likely to want to collect now that it got its crown jewel from Sun?