Last week Google petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States for permission to appeal the Federal Circuit decision to overturn their victory against Oracle. You may remember that Oracle sued for patent and copyright infringement over Google’s use of a small subset of the huge Java class API in Android. Oracle lost in front of a jury in the district court in San Francisco, but then won on appeal.
The case will be a significant landmark for the technology industry regardless of the outcome, but the real impact of any decisions reached will be felt first by Android. The petition itself then suggests that the wider impact of the case is narrower than others might have feared, as its effects only come into play with substantial systems of APIs. Still, in the event of an Oracle win, open-source-licensed APIs would suddenly become much more important and the work of creating developer ecosystems around proprietary APIs would become much more challenging.
The Google petition includes three detailed and thorough arguments for the overturning of the Federal Circuit decision. For a look into what those arguments are and more on the significance of the case, try Simon’s InfoWorld article.
Perhaps you didn’t spot it, but last month in their new Berkeley DB release Oracle changed the license associated with the software. Many will see this as a betrayal of trust, despite the fact that the new license (the AGPL) is also strongly copyleft, published by the FSF and approved by the Open Source Initiative. Of course, Oracle are completely within their rights to change the license as they see fit, but for Web developers using Berkeley DB for local storage, the seemingly small change from one strong copyleft license to another may well be seen as cynical and manipulative.
Oracle’s Java technical chief recently admitted that dealing with long standing security issues has hampered the release of the latest Java instalment. The issues didn’t necessarily originate with Oracle, they’ll have been accumulating over many years, first at Sun and then at Oracle. The problem has been that until now these issues have been on a continual back burner, the “tyranny of the urgent” focussing developer attention onto business considerations as the priority.
Dealing with this technical debt is clearly a time consuming affair, but eventually it catches up with a project and needs to be handled. Some long lived projects don’t seem to gather this sort of flotsam though; the key is in the community. Proprietary projects are often forced to be solely feature focussed, but open projects with a healthy community are in a much better position to bypass the problem of technical debt, as community members will often pour enthusiasm and expertise into resolving the backlog. Continue reading →