On day two of the Oracle v Google trial to determine the state of Android, we have a shocking admission. If you think about the motivation for the answer that Larry Ellison gave the court, things become even more worrying.
We are now two days into the Oracle v Google trial and in the main it is going much as everyone would have expected with Google arguing that Oracle cannot copyright Java nor its APIs and, to quote CEO Larry Page who manages to crystallize Google's argument,
"I think we did nothing wrong,"
On the other hand Oracle's point of view was summarized in CEO Larry Ellison's testimony:
"Just because something is open-source doesn't mean you can do whatever you want with it,"
When asked if Oracle's development effort would be possible without copyright protection, Ellison said:
"Well, no. "If people could copy our software—create cheap knockoffs of our products—we wouldn't be able to pay for our engineering."
Then when asked the simple question:
"Is Java free?"
Ellison was slow to respond and when pressed by the judge simply replied
"I don't know."
In the past Oracle, and Ellison in particular, has been keen and quick to state that Java is free.
It is possible to write this off as a necessary part of courtroom tactics, but the Oracle case doesn't stand on the freedom of Java but the copyrightable nature of APIs. So why would the answer about the freedom of Java have changed to "I don't know"?
Groklaw has a lot more detail to the proceedings, and more will no doubt issue forth in the coming weeks. But this single statement of doubt by Ellison speaks volumes about how Oracle really regards its most valuable software acquisition.
You have to recall that, when Oracle took over Java from Sun, many in the Java community reacted as if the wolf had just been put in charge of chicken coop security. It has taken some time for things to settle down and for the Java community to find a way to work with Oracle. Some still think that Oracle isn't worthy of trust, but some at least have been encouraged enough to think that they have, finally, done a reasonable job on Java 7 and perhaps even Java 8.
Whatever opinion they hold, most Java programmers and users are resigned to the situation of coexistence with Oracle. However, if the CEO isn't sure if Java is free or not, it is clear that if an opportunity came to gain full control, or to make lots of money from it, then such an opportunity wouldn't be turned down.
Is the Oracle v Google trial such an opportunity?
I know many who are considering taking to the lifeboats, if only they could find one.