NEWS ANALYSIS: Following its court loss to Google over Java copyrights and the exit of a key Linux thought leader, Oracle must regain credibility in the open-source community.
First of all, as we take note of all the rolling eyes over at the Googleplex, the May 26 federal district court decision
disavowing Oracle's Java copyright infringement claim against Google apparently will be appealed again, so let's let that be the foundation for this perspective piece.
Oracle as a corporation truly doesn't understand the world of open-source software, that much is pretty clear. The world's largest enterprise database supplier has never been a big proponent of FOSS (free and open-source software) at any time in the last two decades, and although it proclaims differently today, it's still unclear on the concept.
Two recent events bear this out:
Point No. 1:
The verdict of a San Francisco federal court on May 26 throwing out Oracle's claim—after six years of litigation—that Google illegally copied Java open source code into its Android mobile operating system without first obtaining a license to do so. If Oracle really understood FOSS and its global community, it never would have ventured to sue Google six years ago over its use of Java application programming interfaces (APIs) in the first place.
Point No. 2:
The recent exit of Oracle's all-star Linux thought leader, Wim Coekaerts, its senior vice president of Linux and virtualization engineering. We'll get back to this one shortly.
Expanding on Point No. 1:
Open-source software is meant to be copied into applications; this is its purpose in life. It's a pretty simple concept, but even simple ideas can be misconstrued by well-meaning but misguided people.
Oracle Lawyers Considering Another Appeal
In fact, Oracle's statement that it will doggedly appeal the verdict again is yet another indicator that it doesn't get FOSS. "We believe there are numerous grounds for appeal, and we plan to bring this case back to the Federal Circuit on appeal," its lead lawyer said.
Good luck with that. There are no "numerous" grounds for appeal; they have been discussed ad nauseum for six years. This case is dead in the water, but key people at Oracle and its lawyers are motivated to keep it going. One cannot—repeat, cannot—obtain the hard legal opinion they want in order to control the business end of free and open-source software.
Other people have tried and failed to define the "fair use" and "transformational" aspects of FOSS to fit their complaints of misuse; Oracle's only the latest. It's like trying to nail air to a wall.
It's a very good thing that free and open software is indeed free and open for developers to use. Developers need free tools and components to build, test and deploy applications without having to spend tons of licensing money doing it. This is where innovation happens. As long as its participants say please and thank you and pay forward to the community some of what they have learned, the FOSS community will continue to be among the most inventive and successful bodies of computer science knowledge on Earth.
FOSS: The Foundation of Most Useful Apps
Companies can add their own secret sauces to FOSS to come up with products they then can license. This is exactly what Google did with Android. It bought the Android startup IP in 2005, added its own code, included the open-source Java APIs that connect the device to the Internet and voila: Android was ready for prime time in a span of about two years (2007), just in time for a huge market battle with Apple's iOS, which had come out earlier that same year.
Bingo. Nine years later, Android has 3 billion worldwide users and about 40 companies using it inside phones and tablets, and has brought in $42 billion (mostly in advertising fees, not licensing) to the Google's top line because its engineers and managers knew how to get all the components in Android to work correctly.
Without FOSS, we would not have the world we have today, that much is certain. All companies in Silicon Valley use it in development or in their production products at one time or another. Without FOSS, we wouldn't have the Internet as we know it; we wouldn't have mobile devices that can track down any fact in the world in seconds; cable TV, satellite communications, and government, military and scientific systems would all be very different and probably not nearly as efficient; we could go on and on.
Expanding on Point No. 2:
Wim Coekaerts was one of the few surviving former Sun Microsystems engineers at Oracle; last month he moved over to help move Microsoft into the 21st century. Coekaerts oversaw everything Linux at Oracle, including all that code that runs in the company's databases, analytics machines and middleware. Last year he was instrumental in securing a new official image for Oracle Linux on the Docker Hub registry.
Oracle Dabbles in FOSS to Appease Some Customers
Remember Unbreakable Linux? That specialized Oracle kernel predated Coekaerts, but he was charged with the stewardship of that continued development for the last six years. This is a very successful initiative at Oracle, and now the company's going to have to find another "name-brand" engineer to run it.
Microsoft, like Oracle, was famously anti-everything open source until it hired CEO Satya Nadella, who then hired Coekaerts to bring his reputation into the Windows and Azure picture.
Oracle has shown that it dabbles in FOSS only to satisfy the needs of some of its customers, which is what any company worth its salt must do to be successful. But this week's court decision and Coekaerts' move should be obvious red flags to the giant Redwood City, Calif.-based company that it needs to follow Microsoft and makes a large U-turn toward embracing FOSS more than it has in the past and realign its overall approach as a globally significant IT vendor.
Oracle famously has pooh-poohed both the cloud and FOSS in the past. It's finally seen the light in the cloud business; the time is now to become a much bigger player in FOSS, or else it faces losing a lot of deals in the future—as well as another court case to Google if it persists.