At the heart of every Android phone is a platform that runs on a specialized form of Java. In fact, it’s at the core of the success of Google’s smart phone line, which is why the news from InfoWorld of Oracle and IBM making a pact comes as a potential blow to the search giant’s current market dominance. Earlier this year, Oracle filed a lawsuit against Google over those very components, claiming that Google had infringed on a Java patent.
The important components of Android’s Java implementation runs on code developed for the Harmony Project, which is largely IBM’s brainchild. The keys to the kingdom, however, belong to the Apache Foundation because Harmony happens to be an open source project—this is what allowed Google through that door and triggered IBM’s lawsuit.
So, what does this sudden accord between Oracle and IBM mean for the Android phone?
…the core of the IBM-Oracle deal is that those employees will now switch their attention to OpenJDK, Oracle’s in-house open source Java implementation. The move completely sucks the wind out of Harmony’s sails, with Tim Ellison, one of Harmony’s senior developers, essentially conceding the project will probably fold in short order.
That would be a disaster for Android. Apache developer Stephen Colebourne, who’s been following the minutiae on his personal blog, believes IBM cut this deal because Oracle agreed to unblock a logjam in the Java Community Process that controls the platform. As a result, new versions of Java with long-awaited features should arrive in 2011 and 2012. But with no major financial backing for the development of its Java libraries, Android could slip behind and lose the love of its Java-savvy developer base.
Google actually contributes a great deal to OpenJDK so this isn’t exactly the defeat that the IBM-Oracle deal appears to be. It certainly undercuts Google’s current ability to dominate the market by adding other players to the field, but it also means that things are going to be a lot more level from now on. Google has already managed a gigantic head start by tapping into the highly skilled community already present due to the Java core to the Android platform.
What this deal will force Google to do, however, is become an actual player in the Harmony development scene. By doing so, they’ll have to deliver their own backing for the Java libraries they want to further drive incentive for developers. This could end up being a good thing, as with any open source project, pressure put on Google to become a bigger part of the community will expand the depth of the technology for everyone.
In fact, the IBM-Oracle deal itself helps clear up a great deal of obstacles already, opening up a lot of room for innovation. And so far to date, Google certainly hasn’t disappointed in that department.