Daniel Eran Dilger
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Major developer turns attention to Google’s Android

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.

Inside Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone OS as core platforms

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.

Apple shuts down ZFS open source project

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.

Google I/O 2010 takes on Apple with PlaysForSure strategies

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.

Google’s affection for Android will snap off faster than a psychopath on a mission. Company employees have already stated that Google plans to wean Android off into web apps as soon as possible, and while right now is much to soon, a big lawsuit from Oracle could force Google’s schedule into overdrive. Ever wonder exactly why the company was pushing so much effort into improving JavaScript performance? That’s Google’s real platform engine. Dalvik/Java+ was just a red herring.

So while Apple tries to make its software run better by investing in A4 application processors and speedy new multicore CPU technology, Google is pushing for a non-native software development world where everything is written in web standards rather than C++ and Objective-C. Apple supports both native and web apps, which is why it also is trying to whip JavaScript into fine form, but clearly favors native apps because they rely up Apple’s slick frameworks and user interface innovations that have always been why people bought Macs and now iPhones and iPads.

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.

  • broadbean

    Welcome back, Dan. Maybe interesting times ahead, regardless of Oracle’s next move.

  • worker201

    Glad to see you back. I’d prefer a little bit more yelling and ridicule, but it’s hard to not be excited about what Google might do next. They’re Skynet, for sure, but I’m not totally convinced they will eventually be sending out Terminators.

  • nimrodsun

    Hi Dan,

    Good to hear from you. Another good article.

    Sorry to hear about the hand, I hope it gets better soon.

  • lmasanti

    “…but I’m not totally convinced they will eventually be sending out Terminators.”

    Will Larry Ellison be Sarah Connors or Kyle Reese?

  • mailjohannes

    “Sorry I haven’t written anything in a while. I’ve been stressing out about my broken hand that now hurts when I type.”

    I’am sorry to hear that, I hope it improves over time.
    But we (if I may speak for others) need a realistic sensible and informed perspective in a world full of irrational bloggers.


  • Bobson

    “Company employees have already stated that Google plans to wean Android off into web apps as soon as possible”

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention how much people protested when the iPhone OS 1 *only* supported web development.

  • bchristian

    Good to see you back in the saddle. Best wishes!

  • Mark Hernandez

    It will be interesting to see how non-native apps fare when their developers want to charge for their work. That’s all fuzzy to me (though I understand the App Store and iAds business model). It would be fascinating to get an analysis of that part of the equation across the multi-platform mobile app landscape.

  • MobileGeorge

    I believe the main reason people complained about web apps in iPhone OS 1.0 was because Apple didn’t provide access to device-level functionality. You couldn’t access the camera, photo library, address book, email, geo location, music library, etc. (i.e., all the things that make mobile applications useful). If Apple provides web apps access to these features, I think there would be a lot less people doing Objective C development. Only games really need to be native.

    Also, Apple needs to do a better job at supporting the full HTML5 standard in iOS. For example, the “contenteditable” attribute is not supported which makes it difficult for web apps to provide any kind of rich editing capability. And Apple’s insistence on displaying its own modal, full-screen audio player whenever you play audio on the web prevents music apps like Pandora from being web apps because they can’t show album art and lyrics nor run JavaScript to allow further interaction while audio is playing and it prevents the user from browsing other web pages.

    If Apple is serious about HTML5, they need to do a lot more on iOS to support web app development. The lack of an official web app UI framework from Apple speaks volumes as to the kind of support they are giving the platform. The PastryKit framework that Apple used to create the iPhone User Guide web app shows how well web apps can function like native apps, but Apple has not made PastryKit available to third parties. (Browse to http://help.apple.com/iphone/3/mobile/ on your iPhone to see).

    If Google wants mobile web apps to take off, the first thing they should do is provide a cross-platform mobile web app JavaScript framework. But until OS providers open up device-level functionality to web apps, developers will have no choice but to write native apps if they need access to those features.

  • hurtle

    As an Apple fan I’ve gotta say I love the smell of schadenfreude in the morning :-)

    However, I wonder if this will really play out the way you have explained. Surely any lawsuit (and settlement) would take years? why not just stall, while Android gets a bigger and bigger slice of the pie?

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  • http://www.rhoderick.org Josh

    While Google is generally loose with patents, they have plenty of money and they aren’t stupid. I don’t think Dalvik was an attempt to sidestep Sun’s (or, later, Oracle’s) IP as much as it was an attempt to build a JVM that handset manufacturers could use without fear of being sued. Sun’s Java implementation has always been in a grey area when it comes to IP. Java itself is open, but not HotSpot. That is why Dalvik was built on top of Apache Harmony. Google would have had a difficult time “selling” Android (in the figurative sense) if handset manufacturers felt their use of it would put them at risk for costly litigation.

  • Blad_Rnr

    Great insight as usual. Thanks for explaining the suit in the context of what Google will need to do in the future. Another misstep by the great Google and 99% of the Android users have no clue what’s in store for them. So much for Android killing the iPhone.

    I’ve (we’ve) missed your tech writing. Thought you were deep in writing more books or consulting. BTW: how many bones broken does that make? You seem to have a penchant for getting injured. :-) Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery!

  • brew57

    If you can write this well with a broken hand, I can’t wait for articles post-recovery.

  • brew57

    >>why not just stall, while Android gets a bigger and bigger slice of the pie?

    Because presumably Google would be facing bigger and bigger liability

  • Kowalas

    Good to read you again. All the best.

  • ericgen

    Wishing you and your hand a speedy recovery!!!

    As someone who has had many fractured bones, though none as spectacular as any of yours (who would have thought that karate and boxing was safer than motorcycle riding?:), they can literally be quite a pain. I hope yours settle down and heal quickly!

    p.s. And, thanks for the new post! Your writings are alway welcome and are quite missed when fresh ones fail to arrive.

  • limey

    “Good to see you back in the saddle. Best wishes!”

    For gosh sake don’t go near a horse Dan!

    Here’s to a speedy recovery. Welcome back.

  • http://berendschotanus.com Berend Schotanus

    Hi Daniel,
    Good to read from you again. Sorry to hear about your hand.

  • Maniac

    Great article Dan, as usual. It’s amazing how some blog commenters instantly dismiss Oracle as a patent troll past its prime. I can tell you after working there that they are as aggressive and innovative as any software company, including Google, and they’re willing to fiercely defend their IP.

    Anyway, the knee-jerk pro-Google reaction is “Java is free open source, Oracle will go down in flames.” But apparently the Java license agreement requires a 100% compliant implementation. And Google is using a proprietary variant of the JVM, which they call Dalvik. Java apps compiled on the Sun JVM won’t run on Dalvik unless they are recompiled and vice versa, so therefore Google’s implementation isn’t compliant and they are in violation of the licensing terms. Bad news for the Fragdroid crowd.

    Sorry to hear that you have yet more broken bones and injuries. Maybe it’s really true that you are simply more accident prone than most people. Either way, get well *soon*!

  • stormj

    Daniel just doesn’t get it.

    The rules are: Apple kicking Adobe off the iPhone is evil and Google kicking sun off of Android is “open.”

    Clear now?

    [Yes, the obvious difference is that Apple didn’t implement a non-compatible version of Adobe’s Flash runtime on the iPhone, stomping on Adobe patents while depriving Adobe of benefitting from the iPhone’s use of the Flash platform. Apple just decided not to use Flash at all on iOS.

    Had Google similarly not used Sun’s Java at all (as Apple also avoided on the iPhone), it wouldn’t be facing an IP theft lawsuit from the owner of that IP. But Google did, crafting a version of Java that was not really Java but apparently in the view of Oracle infringes upon Java IP and patents. That’s probably hard not to do. Which is why Apple avoided Java and Flash both, rather than trying to create an independent implementation of those proprietary platforms.

    This is one of the issues I pointed out way back when, and nobody seemed too worried about it at the time. – Dan]

  • http://themacadvocate.com TheMacAdvocate

    It was obvious when Sun was being shopped around that one of its most lucrative assets was Google’s development of Dalvik. Another alternative to a hastened migration toward webapps for Google: moving to the .NET platform. I can see it now: Microsoft, Champion of Open Source. Oh, such ironing.

  • stormj


    Na. Ga. Hap. Pen.

  • beanie

    Dalvik is based on Apache.org Harmony, a clean room implementation of Java VM, not Java’s JVM implementation. It implements Java 1.5, which is old. The current version of Java is 1.6 which was released in 2006. Also, the open source version of Java, OpenJDK, began with version 1.6.

    So Oracle is complaining about Android’s Dalvik which is based on version Java 1.5, a version of Java that is reached end-of-life in 2008. Also, Dalvik VM only runs on Android. So it is write once, run on Android only, which is different from Java which is write once and run everywhere. So financially it is hard to believe it has hurt Oracle in any way.

    Dalvik VM seems very different from Java. There are no Dalvik bytecode to Java source decompilers. But regular Java class files are easily decompiled back into source.

    Sorry about your hand. From the comments, sounds like they do not read your Apple Insider articles.

    [Oracle isn’t complaining that Google implemented Java according to a modern specification or that it used Sun’s own code. It’s a patented IP claim. You can clean room software and still violate patents. That’s why it’s so impossibly difficult to build free yet compatible versions of Windows or Flash or Java or Cocoa: there’s too much patented technology in the way.

    That’s why Apple isn’t trying to create open versions of other people’s proprietary software (isn’t supporting GPLFlash/Gnash or trying to deliver a Red Box for Windows and so on). When Apple works on open code, it’s generally open to start with (HTML/JavaScript, WebDAV servers, and so on), not a copy of existing proprietary IP.

    Incidentally, this is the same issue that Google embroiled itself in with WebM and VP8. You can’t take patented IP and “open source it” if you don’t own it to start with. Even if you spend a lot of time and money creating your own independent codebase. That’s the wonder of software patents. – Dan]

  • Ludor

    Damn you’re good, Dilger. Thank you for writing.

    Now heal up!

  • Dorotea

    Whee!!! He’s back… Now I’ll go and read the article.

  • jpmrb

    Welcome back Dan, and thanks for the article!
    PS: i wouldn’t like my right hand to hurt either ;-) !

  • ronhip

    Ah… A nice breath of refreshing foggy summer San Francisco air reading you again, Daniel. I think all of your readers need to get together and create a carbon-fiber/Kevlar suit to keep you safe. We miss your writing too much when you injure yourself (which seems more than one standard-deviation above normal!) Hope you heal quickly.

  • daveynb

    I had faith that if I refreshed your homepage 1001 times that eventually I’d be rewarded.
    Keep up the analysis and the great writing.
    Hope you wear a helmet….

  • gus2000

    The hand again? Really Daniel, ditch the motorcycle before the Google Hitman gets you once and for all. At this point, I think you’d be safer getting around on a glass skateboard while juggling bricks of C4.

    I guess you could always get an Android phone and dictate all of your articles [duck,run].

  • maxijazz

    If being sued makes you IP thief (or at least: “Google’s rather loose interpretation of other people’s intellectual property”), so how about Apple being sued and settling multiple times?

  • gslusher


    “So financially it is hard to believe it has hurt Oracle in any way.”

    I’m not an attorney, but my meager research on IP law (mostly about copyright, but the principles may apply to patents, as well) suggests that Oracle would not have to prove financial damage to win the suit. Oracle probably isn’t after winning a suit and getting damages but forcing Google to license Java.

  • thibaulthalpern

    Wow! Love reading your analysis. Hope your hand heals. It does take a while. I learnt from my days of competitive running that’s he smaller the body part that is injured, the longer it takes to heal. Thus, a fibula fracture takes longer than a tibia fracture to heal, and presumably the hand will take even longer.

    As to where else to visit in Europe, Croatia is a spot. It’s extremely beautiful and not yet as popular as the old haunts like London and Paris.

  • stefn

    Like an aggressive exotic Google has had its own way until now, using its ad revenue to wreck havoc among its competitors and creating nothing of value, or at least revenue. Now let’s see if it can be anything more than just a very fortunate advertising distributor.

  • pa

    A fight to the death between two platforms that can potentially coexist. My head is spinning.

  • masternav

    Welcome back Dan. As someone (else?) who has multiple fractures, its not just the “knitting” pain but the ongoing “healed” pain that can be distracting as well. While I am routinely a skeptic on many things “alternative” there’s a lot going on in Chinese medicine that may provide results for your pain issues.

    I have stated on other blogsites that I was seriously concerned about Google buying up Android as a potential Android killer as Google routinely purchases companies for “quick-hits” in their intrusion into market segments and then drops them as soon as they have served their use. Android looks to be yet another of those properties. Moreover if Google is able to work on Chrome in the background to enhance it’s mobility, and it gains traction in the tablet space, look to see Google acquiesce (sp?) quickly to Oracle’s demands, seek a lump sum pay-off settlement and park Android in favor of Chrome. Only if Chrome doesn’t scale properly to handsets will them mount a defense, imho. Enjoy Europe!

  • Imapolicecar

    “maxijazz { 08.14.10 at 7:24 pm }
    If being sued makes you IP thief (or at least: “Google’s rather loose interpretation of other people’s intellectual property”), so how about Apple being sued and settling multiple times?”

    Huh? In English please ;-)

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