Major developer turns attention to Google’s Android
August 13th, 2010
Daniel Eran Dilger
After a couple years of collecting little more than hobbyist shareware supported primarily by ads rather than commercially viable software, Google’s Android platform is finally engaging the interest of a major developer. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of interest Google wants.
The developer is Oracle, among the software world’s largest. And the problem here isn’t that Android’s platform lacks enough sophistication; it’s that its sophistication borrows too heavily from Oracle’s patent portfolio for Oracle’s liking.
Recall that Google essentially took Sun’s Java Virtual Machine and modified it just enough so that it figured it wouldn’t have to actually pay Sun to license Java. That’s the Dalvik VM inside Android that all its third party software runs on. Android software is essentially Java software tweaked just enough to not really be Java anymore.
If that sounds familiar, maybe you’re thinking of how Microsoft partnered with Sun to bring Java to Windows, then tweaked Java enough to break Sun’s entire strategy of turning Java into a “write once, run anywhere” platform on desktop computers. The difference is that Microsoft actually licensed Java before breaking it.
Google decided to just break compatibility from the start without any pretense of partnering with Sun. That worked fine until Sun was bought out by Oracle, because Sun shared Google’s rather loose interpretation of other people’s intellectual property.
I like your stuff, I think everyone should have it and nobody should pay
Recall that Sun rather brazenly took NetApp’s intellectual property to create ZFS, the futuristic file system Apple was working to incorporate into Mac OS X before Sun got sued and Apple dropped the technology like a radioactive hot potato full of maggots. And of course, before that Sun appropriated a lot of concepts from OpenStep to create Java itself.
But Oracle is no Sun. While Sun executives happily blogged as their company randomly faltered in ernest imitation of the early 90s Apple, Larry Ellison’s Oracle is a tough as nails, down to business firm. It just recently made progress in a long running lawsuit against competitor SAP when that company cried uncle and declared liability in a software theft suit, although it claims Oracle is vastly overstating its damages. That’s not the kind of company I’d want to be suing me.
With Sun’s own mobile Java VM already having largely failed as a viable mobile platform, Oracle has good reason to want to take a bite out of Google’s ascending Android. As the new owner of Sun’s Java, Oracle is looking for ways to make use of its $7 billion acquisition. What better way than to pull out your Sun patents and kick the number one US smartphone platform in the balls with them? It doesn’t matter that Google isn’t making any money in distributing Android, because Google’s business model is to give away software to provide it with more surface area for its ads.
That means Android conveys a lot of value to Google, so Oracle has big pockets to go after for damages from Google’s decision to open source Java without its permission. How this will play out is anyone’s guess, but it’s not great news for the fledgling mobile platform. After all, if Oracle injects new license fees and restrictions into Android’s core kernel, there’ll be little room left for Google to continue subsidizing its support and distributing the software just to expand its ad opportunities. It’s not like Google makes any money on Android itself.
Forcing Google to the web trough even faster
This all might hasten Google’s efforts to push mobile devices to web apps rather than native apps, an effort clearly evidenced by the company’s announcement to ship Chrome OS as its tablet platform rather than trying to scale up Android. Apple scaled up the iPhone OS to run the iPad because Apple cares about its iOS platform. That’s where Apple delivers value. Google delivers value through ads and paid search.
This will provide software evolution with a far more interesting experiment. Rather than pitting Apple’s native development platform against Google’s less restricted but also less sophisticated clone, there’ll be a fight to the death between native apps in a managed environment as pioneered by Apple, and wide open web apps in a wildly free web environment as Google is recommending.
Of course, there’s also the potential that both will coexist in their own niches. That’s actually Apple’s position, which essentially espouses the idea that native apps are usually better, but that there’s also applications better suited to the web (such as porn, political ridicule, Apple’s own user guide, and Google Voice).
Sorry I haven’t written anything in a while. I’ve been stressing out about my broken hand that now hurts when I type.