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Analysts: Oracle's Lawsuit Against Google Casts Shadow on Java's Future

As you've probably heard by now, yesterday Oracle filed a lawsuit against Google saying that the Internet search giant infringed on seven patents associated with the Java Platform in developing its Android mobile operating system (Oracle acquired the rights to Java when it bought Sun Microsystems in January). The analysts I talked with this morning say the the simple filing of the lawsuit could risk the future of Java as a development platform -- and not just in the mobile arena.

Jeffrey S. Hammond, senior analyst at Forrester Research, said he worries that Oracle's lawsuit will not only dampen Android's market momentum, but slow overall adoption of Java in mobile environments and elsewhere.

"The big question is, is this just the opening salvo in a protracted war?" Hammond said. "That's what it looks like to me, and in the long term, such a war would harm the Java community. Especially in the mobile space: If I'm a developer evaluating and evolving my technology strategy, and I can look at Qt or even Silverlight and know that the specifications and IP issues are resolved, the risk of using those solutions is lower than using Java. Why would I invest in Java in a mobile context?"

"We know that Java isn't going to be on the iPhone in the future," Hammond added, "and now it's future on a very popular competing mobile device is in question. I'd expect Oracle to try to extract a sizeable license fee from the device manufacturers, too."

Java developers around the world watched nervously as Oracle took on the mantle of Java steward from Sun. Recently, their fears about the fate of the language and platform seemed to be abating: In July, ADT reported on the results of a survey published by open-source business intelligence vendor Jaspersoft, which found that Oracle was viewed by the majority of respondents as a better steward of Java and MySQL than Sun.

But Oracle's charge against Google is almost guaranteed to shift opinion in the opposite direction, said Hammond.

"Does this not just confirm every developer's worst fear about Oracle?" he said. "Oracle may come away from this with a chunk of change from Google, and it may all go away relatively quietly, but I think the long term PR damage of this move is going to be significant. Developers hate this kind of corporate brinkmanship."

Forrester Research analyst John Rymer agrees: "I think this lawsuit casts the die on Java’s future," he said. "It will become a slow-evolving legacy technology. Oracle’s lawsuit links deep innovation in Java with license fees, and that will kill deep innovation in Java by anyone outside Oracle or startups hoping to sell out to Oracle. Software innovation just doesn’t do well in the kind of environment Oracle just created."

Which, he added, is not to say that Oracle doesn't have a right to protect its IP.

"I think Oracle is introducing discipline to Java as a business," he said. "As we know, Oracle is about generating growth, and if it offends the Java developer community in pursuing that goal, so be it."

Posted by John K. Waters on August 13, 2010