Friday 13 August 2010

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Today, Oracle proved the old phrase to be true - "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely." They also reminded us why we hate Friday the Thirteenth.

Oracle, Google and the politics of money

Todays announcement that Oracle was suing Google somehow isn't a great surprise. Oracle are, at heart, a large enterprise with a track record of sweating purchased assets to make money. Why would Sun and Java be any different?

At no stage could I say I've been entirely comfortable with the notion of Oracle as owner of Java technology. When the takeover was announced I highlighted some of the risks. It looks like those risks are coming into play.

On the specifics of the lawsuit I have little to say. Google undoubtably have sailed close to the wind. But did they cross the line? Well, thats for lawyers now. The problem I have is not that there was something to discuss, but that Oracle thinks that this approach will improve their position. For me it shows how out of touch they are with how community and sentiment works outside CxO level politics.

The lawsuit is likely to shine a bright light on the OpenJDK too. Anyone who has contributed to the project known as "OpenJDK 7" should now be concerned about whether their work will ever be freely available as open source. (Of course their work can be released by Oracle in a proprietary manner, as the contributor agreement allows that.)

We also have our answer on the Apache Harmony dispute, the JCP and the lack of Java SE 7.

I see no feasible way to resolve the Apache Harmony dispute at this point. Harmony is the basis of the Google approach which is being targetted, so any recognition of Harmony would be fatal to the lawsuit.

Furthermore, Google is a key player in the JCP. And all the other members of the JCP back Apache's position. And since only the JCP is currently entitled to produce a Java SE 7, there is absolutely no way out of the deadlock. I think it is only right and proper at this point to consider the JCP as terminated at this point.

(The "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely" quote is a reference to the fact that Oracle supported the position of Apache Harmony until they bought Sun. There position has changed somewhat since.)

The implications of this for version 7 of Java are serious. Part of the concept of an open specification is that others may implement it. These include IBM's JVM, Excelsior JET ahead of time compiler, Eclipse Java compiler and many others. For version 7, how will these other organisations be able to continue? Will we see an Oracle JDK released that cannot be used from Eclipse?

And the implications don't just stop at the Java SE platform. All the specifications that enterprise Java is built on are produced by the JCP. And all of them have up until now been able to be implemented as open source due to the agreements in the JCP contracts. Oracle effectively served notice on that today.

It would therefore be wise to consider there to be no guarantees that open source implementations of other JCP specifications can continue. This includes the whole of Java EE, including JPA, JMS, JSF, Servlets, JAXB, JAXRS and high profile projects including Tomcat, Geronimo, HornetQ and Hibernate.

Would Oracle be crazy to block these open source implementations? Yes!
But being crazy seems to be the order of the day.

Oh, and JavaPosse? I'd recommend renaming your podcast pronto!


Shortly after the merger I spoke to a Sun employee who was now employed by Oracle. Their view was that Oracle had no idea what they had really bought with Java. The meaning was that Oracle did not understand the role of the wider community in the success of Java. Today that lack of understanding was made crystal clear.


  1. I think you are off base here. My understanding is this has to do with JME patents and how Google went about developing their own superset of ME for Android. The patent grant for JavaSE which all your doom and gloom involves means everyone else should go about their business as there's "nothing to see here".

    Please see Miguel de Icaza's take on things here:

  2. I disagree with that last statement: it's obvious to me that Oracle knew *exactly* what they acquired with Java.

    I'm even beginning to think they acquired Sun with the sole intention of suing Google over Java (because frankly, there's not much else of value at Sun).

  3. @NBW I think you're confusing *why* Oracle filed suit with *what* they are claiming and the potential effect that could have. The patents and the Oracle claims are not JME exclusive -- they can apply to any Java implementations.

    Fact 1: If you want to develop technology that has any basis in Java, but is not *exactly* like Java as it is today, then Oracle can sue you based on exactly the same legal theory that they are using here. *Oracle can sue.*

    Fact 2: Oracle is clearly showing that they have no respect for Open Source as it is practiced. *Oracle will sue* anytime it is in their immediate interest to do so.

    My only hope is that the backlash will be so severe that Oracle will be forced to explicitly disclaim any such actions. I think the Java community should demand that, at the very least.

    BTW, I have to laugh -- if you go the Oracle website, click on "Java" then click on "OpenJDK", pretty much the first thing you see is:

    "Power corrupts.."


    "Oracle tries to destroy free java"

  4. The only thing i know that they hurts trust of community a lot.

  5. Your summary sounds frightening, but every end is always the chance for the beginning of something new and good. Remember when Sun sued Microsoft about Java? Microsoft dropped Java and went on to produce something new and innovative. Google will do that too and it will be true open source, no strings attached. I have given the idea a little spin on my blog posting (just click on my name), don't take it all too serious. I am sure that interesting times are to come and evolution of the toolchain will make us developers more productive.

  6. Begun the clone wars have

  7. When do the coffee parties start?

  8. Stephen Colebourne15 August 2010 at 11:26

    NBW, I agree that the lawsuit itself is limited, however the patents used are very broad. By taking an aggressive stance with patents they reduce everyone's ability to trust them - its the loss of trust that matters, not the rights and wrongs of the case. Miles' analysis is correct :-)

    Carl, I actually agree that this may be ideal for the long term health of the industry. It will finally cause CTOs to think of Java is right for the future.

  9. This was actually expected :

  10. Java is not free, if it was bought by Oracle a few months ago. THey paid $7B for it so they want to make some money from their investment. If Java is truely free then why did Oracle "buy" Sun...

  11. Carl did I got your point correct: you think it will be good for "long term health of the industry" if companies will abandon Java?

    Well maybe you are correct, who knows...

  12. This sounds familiar...

    Fraking lawyers.



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