The Future of Android and the Chrome OS

Apparently I'm not the only one to have some innovating thoughts about Android and the Chrome OS. Slashdot has a story that mentions how the two should be merged in the near future. Furthermore, Paul Buchheit, the creator of Gmail, also seems to agree. I'm still a little bit hesitant to disclose all of the technical details publicly, but it would seem that Google is starting to take some steps in the right direction. My plan essentially boils down to taking the Android userspace back to the desktop and incorporating an Android App Screen, much like what Apple showcased at their Back to the Mac event, but also modifying apps so that they are literally write-once, run-anywhere - on any architecture. Incidentally, it would also enable users to run any of the tens of thousands of amazing open-source applications already available, and potentially tie in a revenue system for open-source projects via the Android app store.

Perhaps it was slightly selfish to come up with these ideas - I really just wanted to beautify Linux in both software and hardware, and make the user experience just as enjoyable as it is on a Mac (minus the annoying hard-coded settings). Could 2011 finally be the Year of the Linux Desktop?


Oracle vs. Google, Apache Resigns from JCP

Now that the Apache Software Foundation has officially resigned from the Java Community Process, I think it's fair to say that Oracle has passively waged a war on any entity pairing the terms "open" and "java".

Most people are unaware at just how large and far-reaching of an impact this has. What it boils down to is this

  • Oracle is unwilling to participate responsibly for the community revision and release process that they wholeheartedly bought into with their acquisition of Sun Microsystems
  • thus, anyone wanting to use a certified Java environment to run their code must obtain that Java environment from Oracle
  • therefore, Java, as a specification, will be 100% controlled, owned, and steered by Oracle
This effects everything from the software you can run on your mobile phone, to the software that you can run on your corporate servers - so yea, it's pretty far-reaching. Furthermore, there are probably millions of companies that rely on (open source!) Java technology to do their day-to-day business whose livelihoods are now threatened.

Oracle's only "open source" offering of Java, is OpenJDK, which is completely inadequate in MOST of the cases where I would ever use Java. Let me elaborate. 

I use Java to program for two platforms mainly. The first is a barebones Linux system running on an ARMv4T processor with 32MB of storage. I actually tried to run OpenJDK on it over an NFS root - let me tell you how much of a freaking joke that was. OpenJDK used over 110MB of storage space. My preferred JVM, on the other hand, is JamVM paired with the GNU Classpath, which can be tuned to use as little as 7MB of storage. OpenJDK is bloated, and I'm putting that as euphemistically as I can. OpenJDK takes a century to do anything on this platform. JamVM on the other hand is practically like lightning. In short, OpenJDK is only for desktops and servers. I've never even attempted to use J2ME due to its long list of shortcomings (just google j2me shortcomings, e.g. this).

My second platform for programming in Java is Android, which (openly and welcomely) borrows its Java base from the Apache Harmony Project. I think Harmony has some serious potential on ARM, considering what I've seen so far with Android. Anyone who knows me, knows that I like Android and I think it's a great piece of work. I have personally hacked Android onto several devices, and continually find that it's doing great things with both the native code and Dalvik / Java. One could arguably say, that Android was the best thing to happen to Java in the last decade. Oracle is suing Google, claiming that Google had copied code directly from them (or Sun) somehow, and put it right into the Apache Harmony Project. This is completely ridiculous because Harmony was, in fact, created before Sun made any of its source open. 

Oracle also owns a few patents covering various 'inventions' in the form of software (originally filed by Sun) and they're incorporating claims of patent violation in to the Android / Google lawsuit. Let me be (hopefully not the first) to reveal something here. Sun's original strategy, by filing these patents, was to prevent any kind of patent-related lawsuit that might be inflicted upon Java or any of its users. Indeed, the Sun patents were only originally intended to be defensive in nature. Oracle has turned that around 180 degrees and started using those patents offensively to sue companies that actually do innovative things with Java.

The state of Oracle vs. Google puts Google in a really tight position. I agree (and so do several now-resigned members of the JCP EC) that Oracle has done the worst possible thing that they can with Java as a platform and specification. Oracle's position threatens people from modifying and redistributing Java for whatever purpose they want (source required), which is the fundamental attribute for any piece of open source software according to the definition by Bruce Perens. This means, that Oracle's "open source" offering of OpenJDK might as well be binary-only for any meaningful purpose. 

Now, the Android community, who has had enough vision to do something genuinely new and useful with Java, are relying on a possible court ruling that Oracle's software patents are invalid. In my opinion, they are, but that's only because I think all software patents are invalid. The USPTO, on the other hand, has traditionally given out software patents like business cards. The USPTO is getting more reasonable, and is even revoking software patents in some cases but I feel that it's a dangerous position at large for Google, the Open Handset Alliance, and the Android developer community.

I recently submitted several ideas to Google that should appease both Oracle (from a legal standpoint) and Google in this whole fiasco while simultaneously injecting Android with enough adrenaline, marketability, and sex-appeal to push it even past OS X, the iPhone, and the iPad. I've put in a fair amount of the technical legwork in my free time to see just how realizable this is - and it is very realizable. I've communicated some of these ideas with various developers of original software components and have had very positive feedback. It is doable. Google even responded to me but it's been a couple of weeks and I haven't heard back from them for a while. These suggestions could literally be the best thing to happen to Linux and Android in a long time. I realize that Google is busy (trust me, I understand what its like), but I do hope they reply. I freely offered these suggestions to Google, purely for the sake of securing Android w.r.t. Java. Whether they wanted to give me a job for implementing all of it was irrelevant - I keep myself busy doing the things that I love regardless of who I'm working for.

The solution that I presented to Google was only good for temporary purposes - it still doesn't address the issue of Java as an open specification or Java as an open piece of software. For those reasons, I was saddened today by the announcement of the ASF because it only confirmed Oracle's passive-aggressive position... and potentially the end of Java as a good choice for a programming language.

Edit: I just thought I would point out the self-contradiction of Oracle as well; if you make e.g. OpenJDK available to the public under the GPL, then how can you say that you withhold the right for people to modify it and redistribute it when they provide the source. In this sense, there could be absolutely no wrong done by Google considering they didn't even base their code on OpenJDK but rather on Harmony.