A nail in Oracle's Java coffin - aka, "That's why Google hired Timothy Bray"

A nail in Oracle's Java coffin - aka, "That's why Google hired Timothy Bray"

Summary: Sure, Tim's a great guy, but this was a great piece of Google strategy as well.


Two years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Timothy Bray, recently of Sun Microsystems, and more recently hired by Google as an Android Developer Advocate. While at Sun, Tim was instrumental in the development of Java and, more importantly, its release under GPL. As most readers know, Google is embroiled in a lawsuit with Oracle over its use of Java in Android and the potential damages (read "royalties") to which Oracle believes it is entitled for Google's fork of the software.

Today, though, Groklaw posted a great summary of documents released by Oracle from Bray's time at Sun which, surprisingly, lend a great deal of credence to Google's arguments that they complied with all terms of the GPL and had no need to license anything other than the name "Java". The best line in the documents came from Tim Bray himself:

But I think there’ll be lots of forks, and I approve. I suspect that basement hackers and university CompSci departments and other unexpected parties will take the Java source, hack groovy improvements into it, compile it, and want to give it to the world. They’ll discover that getting their creation blessed as “Java” requires running the TCK/trademark gauntlet, which isn’t groovy at all. So they’ll think of a clever name for it and publish anyhow.

Which is terrific. I see no downside, and I see huge upside in that the Java mainstream can watch this kind of stuff and (because of the GPL) adopt it if it’s good, and make things better for everybody.

The clever name in this case is Dalvik, the virtual machine that runs the applications in Android. No, it wasn't basement hackers; it was Tim's future employer, Google, who took Java and ran with it. However, there is little doubt that when Google hired Tim for what sounded like one of the cushier jobs of his career (in title at least), they were, in fact, buying the inside track into Sun's intent around the open sourcing of Java. Long after Sun was gone, assimilated and generally erased by Oracle in 2009, Google ensured that it would have clear insight into the real story from Sun.

When I asked Tim (2 years ago) where he thought Android would be in 2 years (now), he saw Android and Apple duking it out for the long haul, envisioned superphones that would make the original Nexus look like a toy, and saw Nokia potentially leveraging its international market share. And here we are, with Nokia in partnership with Microsoft with the pending release of Windows 8 set to bring the third major competitor to the smartphone market for which he hoped. In terms of tablets, "He also mentioned the Barnes and Noble Nook, saying that where Android moves is largely up to the market. Everyone, however, is 'watching the iPad very closely.'"

And here we are, in a world much as he predicted, with Google more secure in the position of Android than they were yesterday before Oracle released the internal communications of one of Sun's star employees, a key architect of the Java GPL release, and now, their Android Developer Advocate.

Yes, I'd say that was a particularly strategic hire, wouldn't you?

Topics: Oracle, Google, Hardware, Mobile OS, Mobility, Open Source, Security, Smartphones, Software Development

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Wow Impressive

    actually citing real legal sites on zdnet! that doesn't happen to often here...

    I think you are right, Oracle is about to get whacked for this.
    • real?

      Groklaw is a opinion site for oss fans. They will fav android over any REAL legal argument.

      Also the case by Oracle has at least 6 Google employees stating Java is copyrighted and they need Sun licences or similar wording.
      Even in emails to the top officials. So any use of Java elements without license is clearly intentional and not by accident.
      • But they do print the docs...

        ...and I haven't seen any evidence that they leave out important details (if they did, SCO would have had an easier time of it).
        John L. Ries
      • Were any of them lawyers?

        If not those are just informed opinions. To quote the Judge in this case: "That's what the memo said, I grant you that, but I don't know that's required under the law. They shouldn't be held to this just because Mr. Rubin said this in an email."
      • They may have an opinion

        But they've also been right an awful, awful lot. And they don't miss much.

        Yes, Java is copyrighted. But it is also GPLed, and Dalvik uses so little of real Java (it is basically clean roomed from the API) that it is a very modest infringer at most. The billions Oracle foresaw are unlikely to materialize, either through judgement or settlement.
      • Uh, no.

        What Oracle has is excerpts of e-mails from discussions where software engineers and managers discussed the need for license coverage for Dalvik. Very pointedly, what they lack, is ANYONE concluding that ultimately what they are doing is not covered by the GPL. The "L" is GPL is for "license". Apparently, you didn't know that.
  • Thanks for playing, Oracle. Better luck next time.

    [quote]"Theyll discover that getting their creation blessed as Java requires running the TCK/trademark gauntlet, which isnt groovy at all. So theyll think of a clever name for it and publish anyhow.

    Which is terrific. I see no downside"[/quote]

    Game, set, match, gentlemen.
    • This is what Tim wanted to see happen, not what actually did.

      Sun decided to take Oracles money instead. Big difference. And by the way I'd bet Tim ended up with a big chuck of that money.
      Johnny Vegas
      • Nope.

        The GNU Public License begs to differ with you on that.
      • Not how it works.

        The license is a contract. You don't get to change your mind and call "backsies" just because someone made better use of it than you did. That's in fact the entire point of licensing. The exact same set of laws that permit Oracle to trademark Java AT ALL are the ones that guarantee they can't undo publicly licensing it.
  • Not as easy as you think, Chris

    Sorry, but your blind support (Fanaticism? Paid?) for anything Google doesn't let you see things sometimes. It doesn't matter what Sun's "intent" was, Sun is no longer in control of Java, Oracle is.
    William Farrel
    • Yes, as easy as that.

      It doesn't matter that Oracle own Sun's IP. If Sun open sourced Java, Oracle can't just waltz in an "un open-source" it. And the cited communications speak directly to the question of just how open Sun inteded Java to be when they let it loose on the world.

      Oracle's been claiming that Java was open source only if you were willing to play by a certain set of rules, and Google tried to do an end run around those rules by using Java but calling it something else. And now we've got one of Oracle's principal Java architects and a guy who was instrumental in GPL'ing the language, basically boasting that the only IP Sun retained for itself after the GPL was the name "Java," and that people could do whatever the heck they wanted to with the language without Sun's permission as long as they didn't call their fork Java.
      • As owners of Java, they can do what they want.

        They guy is working for Google, so maybe he's lying, as that's what he's now paid to do?

        If it was that easy, the case would have been dismissed along time ago.
        William Farrel
      • Nope

        @William Farrel

        "They guy is working for Google, so maybe he's lying, as that's what he's now paid to do?"

        Um, read the article again. This isn't just what Bray is saying *now*. These are internal documents from when Bray was working for Sun.
      • GPL. That says 99% of what this about.

        Look, Java was GPL'd right? This is not the kind of license you're going to use if you are expecting to make money on royalties. In fact, it's pretty much the very dead last license you'd want to use for that. It's whole point is to guarantee that the code remains free-beer and free-freedom pretty much no matter what. So as I see it Oracle is going to have to do some pretty fancy gyrations to now turn around and claim that Dalvik is subject to royalties.
        Now, it is possible to open source some of your code and keep other chunks of it under a proprietary license, and so charge for that. I don't see any evidence that Sun did that. And that would be awkward, as the GPL is not the ideal license for that, because it requires that associated code such as libraries used be also GPL.
        It's pretty simple: if you want royalties, don't go near the GPL.
      • those rules are the GPL

        Ok, to follow your argument to its conclusion, where is the GPL boilerplate on all that Dalvik code? Oh, not there you say? So, which "rules" were they following if not the GPL?

        The distinction here is that Tim Bray said *follow the GPL*, but Google didn't do that. They just copy/pasted and removed those pesky license notices.
  • Fan boi article

    Google has shamelessly copied java, what respect would google deserve???
    • Shameless?

      Shameless? It's no more shameless than creating your own Linux distro. There's no shame in doing something that the developer foresaw and intended you to do from the get go.
    • BS!

      Google did not copy anything. They innovated using the fair use doctrine.
      The Linux Geek
      • Fair use exactly

        AND APIs cannot be copyrighted bc they are a part of the whole that has been open sourced. Too late to do anything. AND 9 lines that a high school kid could create ain't gonna add up to squat.