Could Oracle fracture open source community?

perspective An open source expert offers his take on the Oracle-Google lawsuit. Is Oracle in the right or the wrong? Should they back down or not?

perspective An Oracle was a person or agency considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophetic opinion. How can that particular definition be applied to Oracle the company? It can't. In fact I would claim that Oracle, the company, is quite the opposite of "wise" or "prophetic".

Why am I saying this? Unless you’ve had your head in the sand, you probably know that Oracle is suing Google over its use of Java in the Android operating system. Why are they doing this? If you puff away all the smoke and mirrors, the answer is simple: To get as much cash from Sun as they can. The problem that Oracle is facing is that Sun made Java open source in 2006. That was because then CEO, Johnathan Schwartz, was a big champion of open source and wanted to increase the exposure of Java. It was a smart move. Sun was also hoping to make a push for its Solaris operating system for data centers...so they released an open source version of that as well.

Sun and Google spent much time in talks about the Java (and other issues). It was decided that no law suit would be necessary, but they never could come to a complete agreement as to what to do about the Java issue.

Then Oracle comes along, buys Sun, and now seams hell-bent on destroying that relationship between Sun and Google. With this “bull in a china shop” Oracle now in the mix, there are two glaring issues that I fear: 1) The repercussions this will have on the Android OS and 2) How this will effect OpenOffice.

Both Android and OpenOffice are key tools for the current success of open source software…especially OpenOffice. Remember, OpenOffice is owned by Sun and uses the Sun Java platform. Although OpenOffice is not in the mix of this law suit, it could easily fall prey should Oracle win the lawsuit against Google. If Oracle wins, I fear they will gain a sense of entitlement toward all use of Java in the open source community. If Java were to be removed from OpenOffice, it would lose such functionalities as:

  • Embedded database engine.
  • Base: Create Form Wizard
  • Writer: Letter Wizard, Fax Wizard, Agenda Wizard, HTML Wizard, SaveAs Palm/DocBook/PocketWord.
  • Calc: SaveAs (Pocket Excel).
  • Extensions: Wiki Publisher, Report Builder.
  • All: OOoBean, JavaScript Macros, Beanshell Macros

Although the basic functionality wouldn't be changed much, there would be a difference (especially for users who depend upon Wizards).

Should Oracle take down Java in OpenOffice, it would then start plowing its way through the rest of the open source community. Oracle would become the proverbial bully on the playground.

Although I have never been a big fan of Java (in fact, I almost always avoid any application that RELIES on Java to function) I do not want to see Oracle succeed in this law suit. Oracle purchased Sun, a company who owned both OpenOffice and MySQL. You can not deny the importance of both of those applications. They are crucial to the open source community. And now, they both are owned by a company who doesn't seem to get open source.

Oracle needs to back off on this law suit. This is an obvious grab for cash. If Android were not nearly as popular as it is right now, or if it were owned by a company other than Google, this law suit would not be happening.  Shame on you Oracle. Open your mind and try to wrap it around this train of thought:

  • Sun and Google had worked hard to develop a relationship NOT based on legal wars.
  • Android is becoming one of the most popular open source platforms.
  • If you win this law suit, you will set back Android and thus open source.
  • Half of the software titles you "own" are open source.
  • Do you really want to set YOURSELF back?

And besides, if you win this war, Google will find a way around the issue. They will fork Java or use a different technology. When Oracle purchased Sun it claimed that Java was one of the most important technologies it acquired from Sun. Really? Even though both MySQL and OpenOffice came along in the barging? Did the only reason it was so important have anything to do with the fact it had a possible law suit attached to it?

Yeah...I'm thinking that is the thrust of this whole issue. Oracle once had a tight grasp on the world of the database, but they saw that grasp slowly wither and die over the years. Now they are showing their hands with a desperate grasp for cash after purchasing Sun simply so they could sue Google. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was in the plans from the beginning.

But this plan could cause a serious rift in the open source community. It starts with Java and then it just trickles down as Oracle searches out other possible law suits to toss into the mix. The one issue that is certain to come out of this is that Oracle is making no friends in the open source community. The whole of the open source community shuddered when Oracle purchased Sun. Since the purchase of Sun, I have heard from so many readers that they fear what will happen to both OpenOffice and MySQL. And to be honest, I'm not sure I trust Oracle to treat both of these flagship open source applications with the care and respect they deserve.

Think about it. If Oracle destroys OpenOffice and MySQL the Linux operating system would be left with, what, AbiWord? KOffice?, PostgreSQL? Although good in their own rights, none of these are the equal to OpenOffice or MySQL.

My hope is that this lawsuit does not succeed and Oracle backs down from their current attack mode. They are up against a giant (Google), which I am sure can fend for itself. But there are smaller companies (and individuals) out there who can't. I also hope the rest of the IT community see this for what it is--nothing more than a cash grab by a desperate company.

Jack Wallen was a key player in the introduction of Linux to the original TechRepublic. Beginning with Red Hat 4.2 and a mighty soap box, Jack had found his escape from Windows. It was around Red Hat 6.0 that Jack landed in the hallowed halls of TechRepublic. This article was first published as a blog post on TechRepublic.