Friday, August 13, 2010

Google needs to know: What does Oracle really want with Android?

The bombshell that Oracle is suing Google over Java intellectual property in mobile platform powerhouse Android came as a surprise, but in hindsight it shouldn't have.

We must look at the world through the lens that all guns are pointed at Google, and that means that any means to temper its interests and blunt it's potential influence are in play and will be used.

By going for Google's second of only two fiscal jugular veins in Android (the other being paid search ads), Oracle has mightily disrupted the entire mobile world -- and potentially the full computing client market. By asking for an injunction against Android based on Java patent and copyright violations, Oracle has caused a huge and immediate customer, carrier and handset channel storm for Google. Talk about FUD!

Could Oracle extend its injunctions requests to handset makers and more disruptively for mobile carriers, developers, or even end users? Don't know, but the uncertainty means a ticking bomb for the entire Android community. Oracle's suits therefore can't linger. Time is on Oracle's side right now. Even Google counter-suing does not stop the market pain and uncertainty from escalating.

We saw how that pain works when RIM suffered intellectual property claims again its Blackberries, when RIM was up against a court-ordered injunction wall. Fair or not, right or not, they had to settle and pay to keep the product and their market cap in the right motion. And speed was essential because investors are watching, wondering, worrying. Indeed, RIM should have caved sooner. That's the market-driven, short-term "time is not on our side" of Google's dilemma with Oracle's Java.

When Microsoft had to settle with Sun Microsystems over similar Java purity and license complaints a decade back, it was a long and drawn out affair, but the legal tide seemed to be turning against Microsoft. So Microsoft settled. That's the legal-driven, long-term "time is not on our side" of Google's dilemma with Oracle's Java.

Google is clearly in a tough spot. And so we need to know: What does Oracle really want with Android?

Not about the money

RIM's aggressors wanted money and got it. Sun also needed money (snarky smugness aside) too, and so took the loot from Microsoft and made it through yet another fiscal quarter. But Oracle doesn't need the money. Oracle will want quite something else in order for the legal Java cloud over Android to go away.

Oracle will probably want a piece of the action. But will Oracle be an Android spoiler ... and just work to sabotage Android for license fees as HP's WebOS and Apple's iOS and Microsoft's mobile efforts continue to gain in the next huge global computing market, that is for mobile and thin PC clients?

Or, will Oracle instead fall deeply, compulsively in love with Android ... Sort of a Phantom of the Opera (you can see Larry with the little mask already, no?), swooping down on the sweet music Google has been making with Android, intent on making that music its own, controlled from its own nether chambers, albeit with a darker enterprise pitch and tone. Bring in heavy organ music, please.

Chances are that Oracle covets Android, believes its teachings through Java technology (the angel of class libraries) entitles it to a significant if not controlling interest, and will hold dear Christine ... err, Android, hostage unless the opera goes on the way Oracle wants it to (with license payments all along the way). Bring in organ music again, please.

Trouble is, this phantom will not let his love interest be swept safely back into the arms of Verizon, HTC, Motorola and Samsung. Google will probably have to find a way make to make music with Oracle on Android for a long time. And they will need to do the deal quickly and quietly, just like and Microsoft recently did.

What, me worry?

How did Google let this happen? It's not just a talented young girl dreaming of nightly rose-strewn encores, is it?

Google's mistake is it has acted like a runaway dog in a nighttime meat factory, with it fangs into everything but with very little fully ingested (apologies to Steve Mills for usurping his analogy). In stepping on every conceivable competitors' (and partners') toes with hubristic zeal -- yet only having solid success and market domination in a very few areas -- Google has made itself vulnerable with its newest and extremely important success with Android.

Did Google do all the legal blocking and tackling? Maybe it was a beta legal review? Did the Oracle buy of Sun catch it off-guard? Will that matter when market perceptions and disruption are the real leverage? And who are Google's friends now when it needs them? They are probably enjoying the opera from the 5th box.

Android is clearly Google's next new big business, with prospects of app stores, and legions of devoted developers, myriad partners on the software and devices side, globally pervasive channels though the mobile carriers, and the potential to extend same into the tablets and even "fit" PCs arena. Wow, sounds a lot like what Java could have been, what iOS is, and what WebOS wants to be.

And so this tragic and ironic double-cross -- Java coming back to stab Google in the heart -- delivers like an aria, one that is sweet music mostly to HP, Apple, and Microsoft. [Disclosure: HP is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

[UPDATE: The stakes may spread far beyond the mobile market into the very future of Java. Or so says Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond, who argues that, in light of Oracle’s plans to sue Google over Android, “…this lawsuit casts the die on Java’s future."

"Java will be a slow-evolving legacy technology. Oracle’s lawsuit links deep innovation in Java with license fees. That will kill deep innovation in Java by anyone outside of Oracle or startups hoping to sell out to Oracle. Software innovation just doesn’t do well in the kind of environment Oracle just created," said Hammond.]

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1 comment:

  1. I agree that Oracle should clarify its intentions, not only vis-à-vis Google (in case even Google doesn't know yet) but also the wider Java ecosystem and open source community. This raises a number of other questions, also concerning the (in)ability of the Open Invention Network to protect Linux distributions against patent attacks. I raised that issue and several others on my blog: