Policy & Law
Court documents from the Oracle vs. Google lawsuit reveal that in 2005 or 2006, Google was in ambitious discussions with Sun Microsystems to open source Java and partner on Android development. The deal didn't go through, but if it had, the current legal battles around mobile would like have looked very different today. A 2005 email from Andy Rubin to Sergey Brin reveals that Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz was enthusiastic about the possibilities:
Alan Brenner (Sun VP) briefed [Schwartz] today and Jonathan was excited and immediately wanted to pickup [sic] the phone to call you.
At some point afterwards, an internal Google presentation from Rubin and the Android team laid out a detailed proposal, though it's unclear whether it was ever fully pitched to Sun. That presentation, originally noted by Computerworld, contained what would have been game changers: revenue sharing and co-development of Android.
The court documents also reveal that Google was concerned about Microsoft dominating the mobile space. Details on those fears and on the presentation itself can be found after the break.
Google's internal PowerPoint presentation laid out the key reasons for the company to pursue a partnership with Sun, calling the company "Critical to our open source handset strategy" and suggesting that a partnership "Dramatically accelerates our schedule." The specifics of the proposed deal included details like:
The term of the agreement was to be three years. In fact, Rubin's 2005 email notes that Sun was initially interested in creating its own "distribution" of Android "ala Redhat." The presentation makes references to a co-developed "Open Source Java Linux Mobile platform" with Sun governing the Java aspects and Google governing the Linux underpinnings. Both would have split monetizing the eventual platform. In short, Android as we know it wouldn't have been solely a "Google product," but rather a collaboration between Sun and Google.
Of course, the deal never happened. What followed is the actual history of Java and Android: Google created the Dalvik virtual machine instead of using Java directly, Oracle bought Sun, and finally Oracle sued Google for infringing on patents and copyrights related to the Java platform.
Interestingly, in 2005, Google had serious concerns that Microsoft would soon dominate the smartphone landscape. In the presentation, one of the key reasons to make the deal with Sun was to "Form an industry alliance to block MSFT." Additionally, Computerworld discovered another email from Rubin citing a fear that Google would lose the mobile space to Microsoft:
It is widely believed by that if an open platform is not introduced in the next few years then Microsoft will own the programmable handset platform: Palm is dying, RIM is a one-trick pony, and while Symbian is growing market share, it's becoming a Nokia only solution.
While the idea might seem far-fetched now, in 2005 and 2006, Windows Mobile was a legitimate contender in the smartphone space and Apple had not yet officially revealed the original iPhone. It's yet more evidence (as though we needed it) that Apple surprised the entire industry with the strength of the iPhone and that Microsoft missed a chance to become a strong player in mobility.
It's hard to imagine what the mobile landscape might look like today had Google and Sun completed the deal, but at the very least we can say that Google would be enmeshed in at least one less patent lawsuit. At most, we would be living in an alternate mobile universe where Sun would have been a foundational member of the Open Handset Alliance and co-developer of Android -- meaning those Java patents might well have been on the other side of the patent wars we're currently watching.
Meanwhile, in this reality, the legal dispute between Oracle and Google drags on. The latest development is that both companies have agreed to a mediation effort with "top level executives" before a magistrate judge to settle the case.