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Ellison Testimony Could Leave Java Developers Confused


At the Google-Oracle trial earlier this week, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison was asked by the Google attorney Robert Van Nest if Java was free. According to CNET, Ellison hesitated, but when pushed by the judge, admitted he didn't know. I'm sure that answer left Java developers everywhere feeling warm and fuzzy.

iStock 000008779465XSmallAs a matter of fact, given the prevalence of Java use, it had to leave CIOs wondering just what Ellison meant, but for now it's not clear if Ellison's words will translate into wholesale changes around Java.

Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier, a journalist and frequent contributor at ReadWriteWeb, who has written extensively about open source over the years, finds the statement disturbing and bizarre. "If Larry doesn't know, who does? That should be a disturbing statement on many levels coming from the CEO of the company that controls the Java process," Brockmeier said.

But Ness AVP for mobile solutions, Glenn Guber thinks this might be confined more to the trial and Google's use of Java more than anything that can be applied to Java use in general (although he's careful to point out, this is his opinion only). "I don't believe that there is any threat to web development or application development that stems from this lawsuit. But there is a big potential issue with Android as a platform if it does not go well for Google," Gruber opined.

He added, "I don't think that Oracle is saying that Java is not Open Source, but that Google did not honor the GPL license by essentially forking Java with Davlik and not appropriately licensing some the underlying APIs," Gruber explained.

Brockmeier's not sure what's going to happen, but he says Oracle can't simply un-open source Java, although it could make it more difficult to use in the future. "I'm really not sure what will happen if Oracle wins or tries to fence in what's considered open or not. They can't completely un-open Java, what's been GPL'ed stays open," Brockmeier said.

Brockmeier worries though that Ellison's statement could cause confusion -- although for now at least, Java is alive and doing better than ever. "It would introduce some uncertainty in the process, but how much impact that will have is unclear. Oracle's suit against Google hasn't - so far - had much of an impact on Java's popularity. Oddly enough, it seems like Java is on the upswing," he said.

As Alex Armstrong pointed out on the I Programmer blog, when Oracle bought Sun (and along with it Java) there was much hand wringing in the developer community. This simple statement at a trial couldn't be making those same programmers feel much better about Java's future.

As Brockmeier said, it's a bit too late for companies to simply give up on Java given the significant investment many have made already. "Too much money has been invested in Java, too many companies have too much code written in Java to just chuck it all," he said.

That means that Ellison could be sitting in the catbird seat when it comes to Java -- and that's not a position that can make Java developers feel very confident at this point.

Still, it's hard to know if this was an isolated statement, answered honestly under pressure or a shot across the bow that perhaps Oracle has other plans for Java down the road. Only time will tell.

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