What Does the Java Lawsuit Mean for Microsoft?

Oracle Vs. Google

With the current focus firmly on Google, Java, Oracle and Sun, there's one major player who has yet to be embroiled in this patent war: Microsoft. But, although Microsoft may seem to be on the edge of recent developments, the Oracle/Google situation could have huge ramifications for Microsoft and .NET.

In the wake of growing opposition to Oracle, Bjørn Borud has a radical proposal: for the Java community to break free of Oracle, and collaborate with other major players in the IT industry to create a completely re-invented Java community. This would mean VMs, libraries and toolchains untouched by Sun-derived code and, crucially, a wad of patents that would discourage Oracle from going after this new Java consortium. Although it is obvious why Borud names Google and IBM as major players who might be interested in developing a new consortium, he also nominates Microsoft as a potential helping-hand.

The reason Borud gives for Microsoft potentially helping the Java community free itself from Oracle, are personal. After Sun sued Microsoft in 1997 over alleged Java patent infringements, he theories that Microsoft “is hungry for a re-match” and “would probably be only too happy to beat Ellison over the head with a big patent portfolio.” While it's debatable whether Microsoft would lend the Java community a helping hand as part of a long-held vendetta against Oracle/Sun (after all, . NET directly competes with Java) there's no denying that Microsoft have much to benefit from disillusionment amongst the Java community. If Microsoft took measures to make .NET more open, and improve their relationships with the open source and developer community, the .NET world could see a slew of new developers.

Oracle's move could also be lucrative for Windows Phone, which directly competes with Android. Up until now, Android's ascent seemed unstoppable. Figures published by ChangeWave in April, 2010, stated that 30% of those planning to buy a smartphone in the next 90-day period would prefer their new phone to run on Android. Anything that could slow down Android adoption, gives Windows Phone a much-needed opportunity to make up some lost ground.

Just as the lawsuit has the potential to unsettle Java developers, so it could sap enthusiasm in the Android community. With a question mark hanging over the future of the Android OS, it's entirely feasible that shaken developers might switch to a new operating system, or at least begin hedging their bets by exploring different avenues of development, no longer giving Android 100%. And, just as developers might put the brakes on Android-related projects, phone companies could become more hesitant to risk using the Android OS in new devices. All of which is good news for Windows Phone.

But, what if Microsoft and Android are about to get a whole lot closer? Miguel de Icaza speculates that Google could migrate Android from Java to the ECMA/ISO CIL and C#, as Microsoft promise that C#, the core class libraries and the VM only require you have a full implementation. The .NET Micro Edition is also licensed under the liberal Microsoft Public License and the ECMA/ISO VM specification allows for different profiles, which is potentially very mobile-friendly.

With the future of Android cast into doubt, the Java community unsettled and the new steward of Java rapidly becoming open source's latest villain, Microsoft are clearly in the best position to take advantage of the situation.

Jessica Thornsby

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