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FSF Lays Into Oracle, Begrudgingly Supports Google

09.09.2010
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The Free Software Foundation has been relatively quiet about Oracle's lawsuit against Google, which was announced nearly a month ago.  This week, the organization's compliance engineer Brett Smith asserted the FSF's position on the lawsuit.  Unsurprisingly, they've voiced their support for Google and have asked them to take a "principled stand against all software patents" by fighting Oracle in court, rather than settling behind closed doors.  The FSF has a deep interest in seeing this lawsuit defeated since it was their GPL license that was used in 2006 by Sun to open source Java.

Smith's criticism was not limited to Oracle - he points out that Google "didn't seem particularly concerned" with the problems surrounding software patents.  Google still hasn't taken a definitive stance on software patents, Smith said.  Google could have avoided a lawsuit by Oracle, he says, if they had built Android's Dalvik JVM on top of the OpenJDK fork, IcedTea (GPL-licensed).  Instead they built Dalvik on Apache Harmony.  Smith accuses Google of shunning "those protections in order to make proprietary software development easier on Android."

Google's actions however, do not excuse Oracle's behavior, Smith said.  "Oracle is signaling to the world that they intend to limit everyone's ability to do this with Java, and that's unjustifiable," he said.  The FSF has joined this battle on the side of Google because they believe that the lawsuit, if it is not struck down, will damage Java because developers will start to avoid using the platform for fear of litigation.  If Oracle wins or Google settles, the threat will still be out there, according to Smith.

The FSF is encouraging ordinary developers to write to Larry Ellison and "respectfully ask him why Oracle is attacking free software with software patents."  They'd also like it if you bring up Oracle's letter to the US Patent and Trademark Office from 16 years ago in which Oracle opposes the patentability of software.

The FSF has promised to gather information relevant to the case and post it on the End Software Patents wiki to assist Google and other companies that "Oracle might sue in the future."  The FSF says anyone else can help collect information as well.