The Register recently ran a good article about the Oracle vs. Google case:
The Register article summarizes an Apache Software Foundation press release in which ASF disclaimed any knowledge of or responsibility for infringing Oracle's copyrighted works identified in its complaint.
Like most others in Apache, I have formed no opinion about the merits of the Oracle lawsuit. I do, however, have strong personal opinions about the issues for open standards raised by this case. This is an important case for the Java standard itself.
Near the end of the article the Register summarized the standards problem as follows.
Claims of Android openness aren't always what they seem. Most of Android, including the Dalvik virtual machine, is open sourced under an Apache license. But in creating its own virtual machine, rather than just licensing Java, Google creating a world in which Java apps written for Android only run on Android, undermining Java's original mission.
This is caused by the catch-22 of Java software standards, Sun's TCK licensing strategy, which led to this impossible dilemma. We all accepted Java's original mission to be compatible, but we can't prove compatibility unless we accept unreasonable licensing conditions on the required TCK tools – which we won't.
So instead, at least in Apache (and presumably also in Google?), we write software that does what our project teams want it to do. We scratch our own itches, as the open source saying goes. And if our itch is to create "compatible" Java software, we do our best without accepting TCK licenses with unreasonable terms.
In a fundamental and incompatible way, the Java standards are not actually open. Apache's answer to the reasonable mission of "one Java standard" is to "do our best under the impossible circumstances."
The Register article concludes:
"In developing Android, Google chose to use Java code without obtaining a license," reads a statement from Oracle in response to Google's filing. "Additionally, it modified the technology so it is not compliant with Java's central design principle to 'write once and run anywhere.' Google's infringement and fragmentation of Java code not only damages Oracle, it clearly harms consumers, developers and device manufacturers."
But Google's "open" discussion is about more than PR. In pointing out that Oracle once called for complete Java openness, it may be looking to counter any argument Oracle makes about the TCKs. Oracle once insisted that the TCK's be open sourced so they wouldn't be used to discriminate against compatible implementations of Java, Google said, but now refuses to open source the TCKs.
The rub — there's always another rub — is that Dalvik is not a compatible implementation of Java. It's an entirely separate VM.
Yes, there's the rub! We're damned if we're compatible and damned if we aren't.
I'm pleased to see that this case is causing people to focus on the broader issue of Java standards. Java is either an open standard or it isn't; Oracle can't have it both ways. If we are to be compatible with agreed-upon specifications, there can't be any catch-22 provisions in licenses for those open standards.
Rosenlaw & Einschlag, a technology law firm (www.rosenlaw.com)
3001 King Ranch Road, Ukiah, CA 95482
Apache Software Foundation, member and counsel (www.apache.org)
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