Why Bagging Java Creator James Gosling Is a Huge Coup for Google

Despite the Oracle Android case, Google wins big in hiring James Gosling, the creator of the Java language. Gosling joins an A-list of technology inventors and language designers.

Bagging Java creator James Gosling is a coup for Google.

The Oracle lawsuit challenging Google's Android operating system aside, getting Gosling in-house is a big deal for a company that has for some time been making lots of moves around Java-from tools and mobile platforms to related languages and research projects.

Another reason the move is likely to benefit Google is the fire is still there in Gosling. Some observers say he is living off the past. He's eager to disprove those notions. Add to that a clear disdain for his former employer, Oracle, and you have an even more driven individual. Last year, Gosling told eWEEK several reasons why he decided to leave Oracle, including that Oracle founder and CEO Larry Ellison gave him "the creeps." Despite leaving lots of friends and former colleagues at Oracle, expect Gosling to compete particularly hard against them. Look for Gosling to try to torch them like an athlete traded away in his prime who comes back to play his old team. Or like NFL receiver Randy Moss burning Dallas cornerbacks for TDs and looking up at Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones' skybox as if to say: You should've drafted me. Gosling wants a piece of them.

But will it happen through the Android suit? Doubtful. As his name is on one of the patents in question in the Oracle lawsuit, Gosling is as likely to be called as a witness for Oracle as he is to be drafted to help his new employer. Gosling is no fan of the lawsuits or the courtroom. Ever since free software guru Richard Stallman sued or threatened to sue him in the early -80s after fallout from Gosling's rewrite of Stallman's Emacs editor. Gosling was a grudging, if not gruff, witness in the federal government's lawsuit versus Microsoft. And, though he felt it important, he also has said he was not thrilled to be a witness in Sun Microsystems' case against Microsoft.

In fact, Gosling has compared being on the witness stand to going to the dentist for a root canal. He says he wants no part of the Android lawsuit, and would likely have negotiated or discussed that as part of his hire. But if he is called he has no choice but to comply.

In a March 28 blog post, Gosling said he didn't know what he would be working on at Google. He declined to elaborate, invoking the old Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency notion of "If I told you I'd have to shoot you." But the truth is it appears as though Gosling has entered into an open-ended agreement with Google to work on strategic efforts. He gets to work again with Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, formerly Sun's chief technology officer, and a host of Google engineers formerly employed at Sun.

As to exactly what Gosling will do at Google, "to some degree I expect it to be a -think tank' gig overall, but maybe he'll work on the next big thing beyond Java?" said Mark Driver, research vice president at Gartner. "Of course it's all speculation at this point."

What's not speculation is that Google continues to bulk up its bullpen with major talent. Gosling joins an A-list of first-class technology inventors and language designers who work for Google. Guido van Rossum, creator of the Python language, is employed at Google. Rob Pike, part of the Bell Labs Unix team and creator of the Limbo language and Google's Go language, works there. Kenneth Thompson of the famed Thompson and (Dennis) Ritchie duo that created Unix, and also creator of the B language (which preceded C at Bell Labs) and Google's Go, works at Google, too. And Vint Cerf, co-creator of TCP/IP and considered the "father of the Internet," is also in the Google bullpen, just to name a few.

"I expect he'll be pushed to think about how mobile and cross channel experiences will evolve, and get involved to pushing Google's creative development teams to think outside the box," said Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Yet, Hammond also quipped, "Google is a high performance development culture. It looks for creative, intrinsically motivated developers who will think big thoughts, and then go build software to realize them. This is certainly something that James knows a bit about. Who knows, maybe he could go back to the roots of Java, when it was Oak-Google TV could use a bit of help."

That it could. Yet Gosling has a skill set that could be employed in all manner of ways in Google. And though many may have forgotten, Sun had its share of patents and efforts related to search. So he could potentially branch into search, mobile, language design or general research.

"I see Gosling as a figurehead, a well respected elder," said James Governor of Monkchips. "Google likes to have language inventors on staff -- especially on languages they're deeply invested in -- and Gosling certainly qualifies. That said, I am not sure his self-description as a curmudgeon really applies -- he is a pretty good cheerleader, and not many of them are curmudgeons. One wonders whether Google is also trying to gird its loins with respect to the ongoing IP battles with Oracle with respect to Android. In terms of specific Google projects it's hard to say at this point. They have some awesome engineers already."

Al Hilwa, program director for applications development software at IDC, said of Google's hire of Gosling: "Probably has to do with Google's desire to be seen as a thought leader for Java. I don't believe it has anything to do with the Android lawsuit, for example. As companies mature, they covet a position of thought leadership and mindshare especially as they try to make gains in community relations. Having the founder of Java can be a feather in their cap with the Java community and they are certainly positioning themselves as an alternative pole for this community."

One thing that seems clear from Gosling's move-in which he says he had to say "no" to several other tempting offers--is that Google is more excited to have Gosling on its payroll than Oracle was. Maybe as his 20-percent project for Google, Gosling will drum up a little open-source gift for Ellison and company.