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Google Is Smart to Leverage OpenJDK

The impact of Google's decision to use Oracle's OpenJDK in upcoming versions of its Android OS remains to be seen, but reaction to the news in the tech community has been cautiously optimistic.

RedMonk analyst James Governor's take was typical: "[A]fter a long hiatus, Java is finally improved with some significant new functionality -- notably lambdas in Java 8," he observed in an e-mail. "Java, the language, still has strong legs, as RedMonk data clearly show, and it makes sense for Google to embrace that ecosystem's ongoing strength. OpenJDK has made considerable progress as a community and codebase, so why not tap into that momentum?"

IDC analyst Al Hilwa viewed the decision as a smart one, with the potential to help Google in its legal struggles with Oracle: "In one move, Google is able to make Android more compatible with Java, reduce its software development costs by leveraging OpenJDK, and potentially reduce future penalties in case its use of the Java APIs that are the subject of the lawsuit are not found to be fair use," he said.

The two companies have been fighting in the courts since 2010, when Oracle sued Google, claiming that the Internet search giant infringed on patents associated with the Java Platform in Android. Five long years of court decisions, appeals, and reversals followed, and the fight continues. As it currently stands, the courts have ruled that the 37 Java APIs at the center of the lawsuit are copyrightable, and Google is set to argue that its use of those APIs falls under the doctrine of fair use.

Rumors that Google might be replacing its Apache Harmony implementation of the Java libraries in upcoming versions of Android circulated following a Hacker News post in December about a "mysterious Android codebase commit." Google later confirmed its plan with Venture Beat reporter Emil Protalinski.

"As an open-source platform, Android is built upon the collaboration of the open-source community," Google said in a statement. "In our upcoming release of Android, we plan to move Android's Java language libraries to an OpenJDK-based approach, creating a common code base for developers to build apps and services. Google has long worked with and contributed to the OpenJDK community and we look forward to making even more contributions to the OpenJDK project in the future."

Google recently clarified with the publication that this move is a work in progress, and that future versions of Android will continue to contain parts of its own implementation of the Java libraries.

Keep in mind that Apache Harmony was retired as a project in 2011. It was replaced, more or less, by Sun Microsystems with the OpenJDK project.

As Google adapts OpenJDK to Android, it looks as though the company will be effectively replacing the code at issue in Oracle v Google. But does this move actually signal the beginning of the end of hostilities between the two companies?

"Rest assured," Governor added, "there is no love lost between Oracle and Google, but working with direct and indirect competitors is very much how the modern IT industry functions. It's also worth noting that there was a notable softening of anti-Google rhetoric at Oracle OpenWorld this year: Android was mentioned positively."

So, maybe.

Posted by John K. Waters on January 12, 2016