A Google Android and Java history lesson

A Google Android and Java history lesson

Summary: Despite what you may have heard, there's really no news about how Google handles its Android open-source code development. Still, while Google's path may be both legal and good for business, it's not always good for developers.


Recently, some people were shocked-shocked I tell you-to discover that Google had looked at Java to help create Android's Dalvik and that Google kept its Android source code to itself and its closest partners until the final product was released to the public. Oh please. There's nothing new here. It's always been that way and everyone who knows anything about Android's history already knew that.

First, there's the accusation that Android used Java code in creating its Dalvik virtual machine (VM). This is news? When Android first came out, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, then Java's owner, greeted the news of Android's birth with "heartfelt congratulations."

Oh, by the way, anyone could look, use, and, yes, copy Java's code too. You see, Sun had open-sourced Java under the GPLv2 in November 2006. Sun wanted Google and anyone else to use and copy its code. That's kind of the whole point of open-sourcing a program don't you know.

So there you have it. From day one Android was using Java. I knew that. Sun knew that. Anyone who ever developed in Android knew that.

Just look at the record. Not only had Sun's own CEO given Google's use of Java his blessing, As Stefano Mazzocchi, an Apache Harmony--an open-source Java SE which would end up being used in Android--developer explained in 2007 with Android's first release in his posting, Dalvik: how Google routed around Sun's IP-based licensing restrictions on Java ME [Micro Edition]. "Android's programs are written in Java, using Java-oriented IDEs [integrated development environment] … it just doesn't compile the Java code into Java bytecode but (ops, Sun didn't see this one coming) into Dalvik bytecode."

Mazzoccchi continued, "So, Android uses the syntax of the Java platform (the Java "language", if you wish, which is enough to make Java programmers feel at home and IDEs to support the editing smoothly) and the Java SE [Standard Edition] class library but not the Java bytecode or the Java virtual machine to execute it on the phone."

Let me sum it up for you. In November 2006, Sun open-sources Java. In November 2007, Sun approves Google's use of Java in Android. And, in the same month that Sun blesses it, there's a public explianation about how while Google is using some of Java's ideas it's going its own way to avoid the restrictions that Sun attempted to put on its GPLed code. I mean, come on, just look at the title of Mazzocchi's story! He says right out that he believed that Google has worked out a way around Sun's Java intellectual property (IP) restrictions. In the story itself, he then explains how Google is doing it. Oh yeah, there are big secrets here! All these recent "revelations" were public knowledge almost four years ago.

Is there room for argument over how both Sun and Google handled the licensing? You betcha! That's one of the reasons why Google and Oracle are locked in a lawsuit. But, this latest "news" isn't news, it's just people repeating Oracle's paid expert rehash of the situation. Of course, he wrote it to make Oracle look good and make Android look bad. That's his job. That's why they call them "paid experts."

Moving on, there's the "revelation" that Google doesn't immediately open-source its Android code to the public and that it shares its Android source code and development goodies with its partners. That's right. That's exactly what Google does. They've always done it that way and they probably always will.

Guess what? All software companies, open source or not, do this with their partners. It's business as usual. That's why they call these relationships, "partnerships." Canonical is doing it with IBM to bring Ubuntu to IBM's System p mini-computers and blades and System z mainframes; Microsoft does it with Dell and HP; and on and on.

If anything, because Google uses the open-source Apache Software License 2.0, (ASLv2) for Android, Google's in better legal shape than most open source companies in keeping its code to itself and its best friends. You see, in ASLv2, you're not required to release the source code until the binary files, the executable programs, are released.

In practice this means that Google has always let the big Android hardware manufacturers, such as HTC, Motorola and Sony, have an early look at Android source code. Smaller vendors, developers and open-source purists have been unhappy with this Animal Farm-style "Some animals are more equal than others" approach.

I don't like it either. I think that while this makes Google's biggest partners happy, it's also bad open-source development practice. The whole point of open source is that you make better software by sharing the code instead of keeping the code to yourself and your partners until it's ready to go, I think Google ends up actually delaying Android development. In the end, this policy won't hurt Google in the courts, but it may hurt it in the smartphone and tablet operating system marketplace.

None of this is news either though. That's been public knowledge for years. Microsoft kept secrets that eventually led to it having its wrist-slapped by the Department of Justice. The Oracle/Google lawsuit? It's nothing, but Oracle's attempt to puts its piggy snout into the Android money trough.

Whether this case comes to a jury trial or, if Judge William Alsup gets his wish and Google and Oracle settle, the real issues boils down to money. In the end, the case isn't really about copyright, patents, or licenses. Those are just the tools Oracle is using to squeeze cash from its Sun/Java investment. In short, it's, I'm sorry to say, it's just business as usual in the United States in 2011.

Related Stories:

Latest filings in Oracle patent case spell trouble for Google

Sun CEO explicitly endorsed Java's use in Android: What do you say now Oracle?

Google, Oracle head to settlement talks over Android lawsuit

U.S. judge scolds Oracle and Google at Android IP hearing

Linus Torvalds on Android, the Linux fork

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

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  • RE: A Google Android and Java history lesson

    " In the end, the case isn?t really about copyright, patents, or licenses" - Then what is it about? Does any company give away money for free if some other company asks for it.

    Google fans is having trouble defending themselves and is using irrelevant things to cover up and pretending that its no big deal...
    • It's Steven's blog -

      He says what he wants, even when he has no basis for the statements. Funny how he speaks for the Courts when he's completely clueless.

      "The Oracle/Google lawsuit? It?s nothing". Well, if Oracle wins, they can demand that all Android vendors cease and desist immediately. I guess that's nothing to Steven. Might upset most of the smartphone market though.

      Nothing? Only nothing to Steven and the Android backers that want to ignore theft when it serves their purposes. Something hypocritical about that, but then again, this is SJVN we are reading, so pretty normal.
      • I think Google will end up settling with Oracle

        @Cynical99 and license the technology. No way they would demand all Android vendors to cease and desist--they will instead demand that they pay up for the license and so ensure themselves a continuing source of revenue.

        It sure will be fun to see if the freetards continue to support Android once Oracle starts profiting from it.
      • Speaking of basis for statements - Theft?

        There was no theft, since Sun open sourced Java in 2006. What part of that do you find difficult to grasp? Its the same thing as you or I chucking a blue print on the internet for our latest greatest invention and then coming back 6 years later to claim everyone who built our device is a thief. Even on the surface your chosen position doesn't sound defensible.
    • RE: A Google Android and Java history lesson

      @owlnet "When Android first came out, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, then Java?s owner, greeted the news of Android?s birth with ?heartfelt congratulations."

      "...anyone could look, use, and, yes, copy Java?s code too. You see, Sun had open-sourced Java under the GPLv2 in November 2006. Sun wanted Google and anyone else to use and copy its code. "

      Why yes, yes they do, in this case. Sun praising Google for using it is hardly "irrelevant" as you put it. Sun was all good with it, but Oracle does what Oracle always does. Buy out patent holders, and then sue everyone using said patents. If not for that, there wouldn't even be an Oracle anymore. Another leech trying to ride the Android money train is right.
  • RE: A Google Android and Java history lesson

    Steven, Great Article. <br><br>Hooah!
  • RE: A Google Android and Java history lesson

    "it just doesn?t compile the Java code into Java bytecode but (ops, Sun didn?t see this one coming) into Dalvik bytecode." - So they got around Sun's IP by copying what Sun was doing... The exhibits that Oracle provided were not part of open source Java. They were Sun's internal classes.
  • RE: A Google Android and Java history lesson

    Google is scared... just pay up and continue using Java.
    • RE: A Google Android and Java history lesson

      @Hasam1991 Trouble is, Google doesn't make any money from Android....and it has to be especially troubling for them when they see how "successful" Android has become compared to iPhone and yet while Apple is raking in the money, Google is getting nothing substantial from Android. In fact, Microsoft is making more money from Android than Google is.

      Google is in a quandry. They jumped into the Android development world without a plan, other than "we can't let apple control the whole world" for fear that advertising revenue could be cut off. Now they have Android. They make no money from it directly (yet). Advertising revenue is negligible from Android (still most revenue comes from PC based search). While they have played in this arena, they haven't figured out how to monetize it without crippling it.

      They bought Motorola for patents and because they see what Apple has accomplished and realize, to make money, they have to shift to an Apple model. Problem is, their customers are not Apple customers.

      Apple customers have no trouble spending money for Apps and accessories. Android customers are inherintly thrifty and enjoy the fact that their open sourced platform brings them goodies for free.

      Google is struggling to figure out how to navigate the side effects of their own success.
      • Nonsense

      • So Sorry Gomigomijunk


        So sorry, but you see, Google does make money off of Android. They get a few cents every time an ad is displayed. That is where Google gets it's money. The Handset Makers (Apples real competition) get, like Apple a profit every time a handset is sold. That is why there is a new iPhone out every year. Apple wants it's money from you.

        Google gets say a penny every time you use your phone, as most of the 'free Apps' are really ad supported apps. They also make a bundle off of a lot of the iPhone users.

        Let's see, now, say 100,000,000 users, times say $.05/day gives Google around $5 Million per day from Android. That is worth a market cap of roughly $30 Billion from just Android alone. Now, what was your point about Google's cash problem again?
  • RE: A Google Android and Java history lesson

    I am with you Steven, the claim is that this is regarding J2ME and was never opened but if any part of the code is the same as the open Java 2 which was under the GPL 2 license the Oracle is violating the GPL 2 license and their J2ME code isn't protected either!

    Either way, Oracle cannot remove the GPL 2 Licensing for current or older implementations so Google would be grand fathered in on any claims that Oracle makes and thus this really is a non-issue.
  • RE: A Google Android and Java history lesson

    Nice one sjv.

    PS. I like the fact it was hype free.
  • great article

    refuting the propaganda from the axis of evil software companies is refreshing.
    Android is safe because google was open about it.
    The Linux Geek
    • RE: A Google Android and Java history lesson

      @The Linux Geek

      So crime is OK as long as it's confessed? I can rob the corner market with impunity as long as I'm open about it?
      • You mean like the crime ..

        @DaveN_MVP .. of deliberate misrepresentation, misleading evidence and manipulation of information / data that Oracle has exercised throughout this whole gawd awful, sh@#ty mess, abortion of a case???<br><br>When you judge others based on your self-righteous, high measures (put them to the sword), you had better be sure 'your side' is absolutely spotless and blameless.
      • RE: A Google Android and Java history lesson

        @DaveN_MVP No, crime is not OK. But until a judge and/or jury in a court of law decides a crime is committed, there is no crime. So why is it that you, and many others like to spout off about crimes before a decision is made. Especially when it is in defense of a worthless company such as Oracle. Or is it you might be an iOS user, and will just say anything, anywhere, anytime that is anti-Android.
  • *sigh*

    I cannot wait until Ed Bott writes the history of Java and Oracle to get a better history. There is no discussion here about the licensing differences between JavaSE and JavaME, there is a non-sequitur about a non-binding congratulatory letter that is suppose to acquit Google of any wrong doing. On a scale of 1 to 5, I would have to give this a 2.
    Your Non Advocate
    • RE: A Google Android and Java history lesson

      @facebook@... Go read The GPL and then study both open Java and Java ME to see if the code is drastically different... If it turns out not to be then we will see how this plays out.

      Also, you cannot deny Sun's CEO congratulating Google for using their product. If in fact that CEO was peddling the Sue Google Campaign when selling Sun then this could be colussion and Google could seek damages from Oracle.
      • RE: A Google Android and Java history lesson

        @Peter Perry

        "you cannot deny Sun's CEO congratulating Google for using their product"

        No, I can also not ascribe any thing substantive to his statements either. The letter has no legal standing, it is not a contract, it is just an atta-boy letter.
        Your Non Advocate