Google makes a risky play for the gallery

Google made Java better, which is technically a good thing. But it did so in a legally questionable way.

The Great Google is wearing sackcloth and ashes this week, whipping up public resentment against legal rival Oracle by staying away from JavaOne, and quietly encouraging sales of James Gosling's nifty anti-Oracle t-shirts. (Picture from Cafepress.)

But in publicly portraying itself as the Luke Skywalker of open source (and Larry Ellison as Darth Vader) Google is taking a risk. That's right, someone might find out Oracle is its father. That would be a real disturbance in the force.

The problem, as Bruce Perens makes clear at his blog, is that this lawsuit isn't really about open source. Google deliberately violated the patent freedom grant given by Sun, using a user interface toolkit not found in Java ME or Java SE.

Java on the web doesn't seem to have the problems that Google built into Android, its users can stay within the patent grant without trouble.

Oops. Instead, Android implements the Dalvik Virtual Machine, recompiling  the Harmony class libraries on Apache's version of Java SE. It then targets the new version at the same markets Oracle has identified.

Or, as Charles Nutter notes in his excellent summation of the issues, "Dalvik is not a JVM...it just plays one on TV." Google made Java better, which is technically a good thing. But it did so in a legally questionable way.

One point even the fiercest open source advocates will insist on is that your rights to change code are not unlimited. They are defined by a license. If Google tweaked a proprietary version of Java it may lack the commercial rights to what it has done.

In other words, as painful as it may be admit this, Oracle may indeed have a case even Richard Stallman is bound to respect.

Google, who's your daddy?

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