Java creator James Gosling: 'Google totally slimed Sun'

Gosling said that Sun was "wronged" by Google and that Oracle is right to sue Google for the way it used Java code in Android.

Dan Farber
5 min read
James Gosling at JavaOne
James Gosling at JavaOne in May 2007. James Martin/CNET

James Gosling has a great deal of his life invested in Java. He is considered the father of the programming language, which was launched by Sun in 1995 and runs on billions of digital devices, and is currently at the center of a contentious legal battle between Oracle and Google.

Up until Saturday night -- when he wrote that "Google totally slimed Sun" -- the proud father of Java had been fairly moderate in his comments about how Google treated his baby. 

Full coverage: Oracle v. Google

When the lawsuit, claiming that Google had infringed on Java copyrights and patents in its Android platform, was announced by Oracle back on August 10, 2010, Gosling suggested on his personal blog that Java's new owner might be inclined to take a different approach to dealing with Google and Android than was the case at Sun Microsystems:

"Not a big surprise. During the integration meetings between Sun and Oracle where we were being grilled about the patent situation between Sun and Google, we could see the Oracle lawyer's eyes sparkle. Filing patent suits was never in Sun's genetic code. Alas...."

A few days later, on August 15, 2010, Gosling wrote a longer post, citing "very weak notions of interoperability" with Android that Sun "strongly objected to." He concluded his post by calling the lawsuit "more about ego, money and power."

"Don't interpret any of my comments as support for Oracle's suit. There are no guiltless parties with white hats in this little drama. This skirmish isn't much about patents or principles or programming languages. The suit is far more about ego, money and power."

Gosling left Oracle with some acrimony in April 2010, less than three months after the enterprise software giant closed its deal to acquire Sun for $7.4 billion. In announcing his departure, Gosling wrote,  "Just about anything I could say that would be accurate and honest would do more harm than good."

Following my article on ex-Sun executives on opposing sides of the lawsuit last week, which misstated his position on Oracle v. Google, Gosling assigned some public guilt, declaring that "Google totally slimed Sun":

"Just because Sun didn't have patent suits in our genetic code doesn't mean we didn't feel wronged. While I have differences with Oracle, in this case they are in the right. Google totally slimed Sun. We were all really disturbed, even Jonathan: he just decided to put on a happy face and tried to turn lemons into lemonade."

For Gosling and Sun's management, Android represented a kind of dark side, incompatible with the Java "Write Once, Run Anywhere" (WORA) credo. The Google "slime" was likely what Sun saw as a high-flying, arrogant Google, stacked with the former Sun CTO (Eric Schmidt) as its CEO and a roster of top Java engineers, using what was considered Sun's open, but in some ways restricted, code in a way that would offer little benefit to struggling company that had invested tens of millions of dollars developing Java and its community over more than a decade. 

In a March 8, 2007 e-mail to Schwartz about working with Google on licensing or partnering with Sun on Java, Sun's co-founder and chairman, Scott McNealy, characterized the relationship with Google at the time: "The Google thing is really a pain. They are immune to copyright laws, good citizenship, they dont share. They dont even call back."

In an interview with eWeek in June 2009, Gosling outlined his concerns about Android:

"It's really hard to tell what their intentions are with Android. They put this thing out there, and you've got lots of people picking it up. The big attraction seems to be the zero on the price tag. But everybody I've talked to who is building an Android phone or whatever, they're all going in and they're just hacking on it. And so all these Android phones are going to be incompatible.

"One of the reasons that we charge license fees is because we've got organizations of people that do compatibility testing and actual negotiating amongst the different handset makers so that things like GPS APIs look the same. And what's going on in the Android world is there's kind of no adult in charge. And all these handset manufacturers are doing whatever they damn well please. Which means that it's just going to be randomness. It could be let a thousand flowers bloom, but it also could be a dog's breakfast. And I guess having been around the track a few times, it feels like it's going to be more of a dog's breakfast."

In testimony last week, former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz basically dismissed Oracle's claims of infringement.He stated that Google didn't infringe on any Java intellectual property and didn't require any license from Sun as long as Android was not branded Java in any way. 

"We didn't like it, but we weren't going to stop it by complaining about it," Schwartz said, indicating he may have felt a little "slimed." 

"Imagine for a moment if Google selected Microsoft Windows," which was the alternative to an open source Java implementation at the time. Schwartz preferred Google's variance with the Java WORA to a stronger Microsoft in the mobile arena.

McNealy shares Gosling's view of Google's actions, disputing Schwartz's conclusion that Google was legally in the clear as long as its didn't use the Java name or logo.  "I don't recall that was ever a strategy that we pursued nor allowed in the marketplace," he said in court. 

Gosling's sense of Google's wrongdoing didn't prevent him from joining the company one year after leaving Oracle, as the lawsuit was ramping up. But his Google stint was brief, lasting only five months. "In retrospect, it was a bad decision," he told me. Gosling departed Google to become the chief software architect at Liquid Robotics, which develops ocean-going robots that record and transmit data.

In his posts, Gosling said Sun didn't have patent suits in its genetic code, but the company clearly had some capacity for initiating lawsuits and taking on giant targets. In 2001 Sun settled a suit against Microsoft involving Java for $20 million, and in 2004 Sun settled a patent and antitrust suit against Microsoft that came with a $1.95 billion payment to Sun. 

In his testimony last week, Schwartzexplained his "grit our teeth" strategy after Android had its public debut as an incompatible variant of Sun's Java. "We saw a handset bypass our brand and licensing restrictions...we decided to grit our teeth and support it so anyone supporting it would see us as part of the value chain," he said. Apparently, continuing to seek a way to work with Google -- to turn lemons into lemonade, as Gosling wrote -- was preferable to engaging in a costly lawsuit. 

As the trial goes into its third week today, Judge William Alsup and the jury will hear the closing statements from each side on theJava API copyright claims, phase one of the trial. Phase two of the trial will deal with liability on the patent claims. One of Gosling's patents, "Method and apparatus for resolving data references in generated code," is part of the case. Gosling was asked to be a witness for the plaintiff, Oracle, and he may get an opportunity to discuss Google slime in front of the jury.