While some Google geeks may dream of Android applications along with the promise of new smartphones, not everybody is thrilled with the path Google has allowed the open-source operating system to travel.
Android leverages the open-source Java programming language, of which its creators at Sun Microsystems are understandably protective. Shortly after Google unveiled the Android OS for mobile devices and corresponding development tools in November 2007, Sun executives lashed out at Google’s Android team, accusing it of contributing to the fragmentation of Java.
The argument is that letting programmers write Java apps for Android phones willy-nilly, or without the compatibility tests Java programmers typically partake in, will lead to serious compatibility issues.
For example, Android uses the Java language but not all the same APIs as Java Micro Edition and does not run on a JVM (Java virtual machine). Sun argues this will lead to broken applications on Java-based smartphones.
This is an accusation Sun has made toward Microsoft, IBM and others in the past to protect the crown jewel on which the company’s software portfolio was based (when Java was not open-sourced).
In a recent interview with Java creator James Gosling, eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl Taft asked Gosling: “What do you think of Google’s use of Java or the subset of Java they use?” Gosling responded:
“They are odd. It’s not like the petulant kid who doesn’t want to play with others. It’s like they’ve got their head in the clouds and they’re now saying, “Oh, you mean there are other people out there that we might want to play with?” It’s really hard to tell what their intentions are with Android. They put this thing out there, and you’ve got lots of people picking it up. The big attraction seems to be the zero on the price tag. But everybody I’ve talked to who is building an Android phone or whatever, they’re all going in and they’re just hacking on it. And so all these Android phones are going to be incompatible.“
“The petulant kid who doesn’t want to play with others” might have been Microsoft, IBM and others in the past. But the allusion to Google having its head in the clouds … I don’t think Gosling really believes Google’s Android team is operating under such naivetÃ©.
Is this Gosling’s polite way of goosing Google, telling the Android team, hello, there are other Java smartphones out there, so start acting like it? Play nice?
Or, perhaps Gosling really thinks Google is in fact acting like Microsoft and the other companies that used to get under Sun’s skin: that it doesn’t matter what others are doing regarding Java programming — it’s Google’s way or the highway.
Enderle Group’s Rob Enderle pointed out that Google’s open-source mind-set already puts the company on better footing with Sun than Microsoft ever was as a proprietary player. Enderle told me Google is:
“solidly anti-Microsoft, which suggests that many things Microsoft does [Google] will be motivated to avoid, like maintaining a consistent code base. Where this approach is likely to break is in compatibility, which is at the core of Microsoft’s actions in not allowing much in the way of changes in their platform. This would suggest compatibility problems, but I think it is too early to tell whether Google can’t effectively mitigate this issue. We’ll have to see though; the risk Gosling talks about is real but there are ways to effectively mitigate it. We’ll need more than one phone in market to determine whether Google is successful or not.“
What do you think? Is this much ado about nothing? I’m interested in additional discourse, so fire away.