Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Anyone who has worked with me knows that I'm a FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) user and lover and have been for a long time. I tow the community line about Software Patents being very bad.

I've also been using Java at work extensively for the past few years.

Java has been seen as a relatively Free and Open language, with most of the controversy surrounding C#/Mono/Novell/MS.

The recent Oracle - Google lawsuit has the potential to change that view.

Of course there are lots of blog and articles about the whys and hows and all that. Quite frankly are large very profitable corporation with a big ego at the helm trying to squeeze money and control out of other very large big-ego corporation is not especially surprising or interesting. At the end of the day, either which way the outcome, we probably all end up paying a few dollars more on our next mobile phone (which end ups in some lawyer's pockets). No big deal, situation normal, lawyers leach off the value created by engineers and all that.

The interesting part to me is the impact on us lowly Engineers and the FOSS ecosystem.

Here are some of the bits that either struck a chord with me or got me thinking.

The first is from Robert O'Callahan who works for mozilla: Google vs Oracle

People have argued that open source communities are less of a target because they have less money to extract, but the most dangerous suits are about shutting down competition, not about extracting licensing fees --- like this Google/Oracle suit, apparently.

Interesting. I also saw some commentary saying that MS is less evil here because they want to license and make money, not just shut down the competition.

The next two are really the same idea said about copyright and patents.

From Michael Meeks: Why Oracle's Java Copyrights Might Matter

Of course - many in the Free software community approach problems based on their love of the underlying technology - de-coupled from a love of its current commercial owner. As such, we would advocate decisions that were good for the product, potentially at the expense of its current owner. So - what does this mean for people like us ? Guard your heart ! - try not to fall in love with a technology, and give yourself to developing and improving it, if a single company owns, and controls it. As a corrolary - try to avoid assigning your copyright to companies that might use it to harm you later. And finally - try to choose to support, and use good Free Software that grants wide patent and re-use rights under licenses like the GPL.

From Brad Kuhn: Considerations For FLOSS Hackers About Oracle vs. Google

James Gosling is usually pretty cryptic in his non-technical writing, but I think if you read carefully, it seems to me that Gosling regrets that Oracle now holds his patents on Java. I know developers get nice bonuses if they let their company apply for patents on their work. I also know there's pressure in most large companies to get more patents. We, as developers, must simply refuse this. We invent this stuff, not the suits and the lawyers who want to exploit our work for larger and larger profits. As a community of developers and computer scientists, we must simply refuse to ever let someone patent our work. In a phrase: just say no.

It is interesting to think about negotiating for those demands. Most standard contracts say that the company owns everything you do. Unless you're a super-star engineer/programmer/hacker then you probably wont get far. In the past I have had resistance to just being allowed to hack on FOSS projects in my spare time.

But the big question for me personally is "Have I backed the wrong horse in Java?"

Now that Oracle owns it, and clearly want to control and extract every penny out of it, Java looks much less attractive.

What would be a good alternative anyway?

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