Thursday, August 19, 2010

A cultural interlude -- Lydia the tattooed Lady

I'm taking a break from writing about Oracle America v Google, or Minix 3 today, and doing something a bit more whimsical.  I've always lived my life surrounded by music, and have written here about the Free Music movement.

In addition to enabling free music the internet has made available an amazing array of resources for those of us who love music and film in all its forms.  When I was a teen if I wanted to see, say, a Marx Brotherss film my one option was waiting for it to come on television.  A decade later (in the 1970s) a few small "art" theaters had opened, which might occasionally show a Marx Brothers movie.  A decade after that (in the 1980s) videotape had entered the mass market, and if I wanted to buy a Marx Brothers film I could do so.

Now that the web is ubiquitous and nearly every artist committed to record, tape, or film has at least some presence on the web if I want to see one particular notable Marx Brothers clip I can probably find it.

So on that happy note I present one of the best musical numbers ever to come out of an otherwise terrible movie (At the Circus).  The lyrics to Lydia the Tatooed Lady were penned by Yip Harburg, one of the great songwriters of the 20th Century (who also wrote Brother Can You Spare a Dime, Paper Moon, and all the songs in the movie the Wizard of Oz.

After a string of wonderful but chaotic movies at Paramount, and the two wonderful Irving Thalberg Marx Brothers movies at MGM, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races, their movies went into sharp decline in quality.  This clip is a gem in an otherwise awful movie.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Understanding Oracle America v Google: The patents at issue

I want to credit Groklaw with pointing out this useful post by Carlo Daffara which has links to the specific patents under which Oracle America has filed their lawsuit.  The article itself is an interesting read beyond just the usefulness of the links.  One byproduct of my research on this issue has been familiarizing myself with Carlo Daffara's work.  He's a major player in the support of free software in the EU, and does work on open source business models.  Here's a link to info on Mr. Daffara.

Minix 3 and bochs configuration progress report

I just wanted those of you who are following my Minix 3 articles to know that I'm still working on getting Minix 3 running under bochs.  Some household duties have made the project slow going, but I expect to have some time freed up by next week.  The snag is still the same.  Minix runs in text based terminal mode, but X windows silently dies on me.  After I've made a good faith effort to figure the problem out myself I intend to post notes on the bochs and X forums to see if I'm dealing with a known problem.  So if you've been reading the Minix 3 articles don't give up.  They will resume soon.

Understanding Oracle America v Google: The Oracle Corporation

The Oracle Corporation is best known in the Information Technology world for the Oracle relational database management system, but is probably known most in the business world for its high profile CEO Larry Ellison.

The beginnings of the Oracle Corporation were in 1977 when Larry Ellison, Ed Oates, and Bob Miner formed the consulting group Software Development Laboratories.  Oates had shown Ellison a 1970 paper in which IBM's Ted Codd had proposed the relational database model for data.  IBM was very slow on the drawn in implementing the work of their own researcher, so SDL jumped in to fill the void.

By 1979 the company was successfully marketing their product, and in 1979 changed their name to Oracle Corporation after their flagship product.

By successful marketing and by acquisition of other companies Oracle grew to be the corporation that has the third largest revenue from software, behind only Microsoft and IBM.

Oracle's most significant acquisition in terms of their recent trajectory was in January of this year, when they completed their acquisition of Sun Microsystems.  Sun was well known as a producer of enterprise servers and storage devices.  They were also a powerhouse in Research and Development, had a great deal of trouble monetizing their research, and had been on an acquisition spree of their own before being acquired by Oracle.  I'll write more on Sun and the properties Oracle got with the acquisition  when I cover Oracle America, the name Oracle has given to the subsidiary comprising the former Sun.

Oracle is in some ways an old fashioned software company.  While Oracle has dabbled in open source software and software which is free in the sense of "free beer", it's exhibited little understanding of the culture of the free software movement.  The first evidence of this is the awkward and heavy handed manner in which it handled relations with the Open Solaris community (I've written brief posts on that relationship  here and here).

Why is Oracle suing Google?

There isn't really an easy answer at the moment as to the motivation and timing of this lawsuit.  It has the obvious effect of disrupting, and potentially damaging, future adoption of Java.  So it's likely Oracle has some specific goal in mind beyond a one time settlement.  I can't imagine Oracle deciding to compete with patent trolling firms like Acacia.  In fact in 1994 Oracle went on record opposing software patents in principle (in agreement with a substantial portion of the IT world). 

This early in the game my best candidate for a quick guess is that Oracle is interested in getting a strong foothold in the mobile industry, either by forcing a licensing agreement with Google, or blowing Android out of the water and introducing a competing device.  Oracle did something similar to the latter when they tried to compete with Red Hat Linux a few years back.  That attempt was a complete and utter failure.

As the suit unfolds Oracle's specific strategy will probably become obvious.  But I doubt that it's moral indignation over violation of their IP.  After all, Oracle got its start implementing research that was carried out on IBM's dime.

Monday, August 16, 2010

An outline of Oracle America v Google

I'm approaching this article (which is really a series of articles) differently from my typical linear set of postings.  This outline article will undergo edits as the entire series develops.

Since my goal is mostly to present the information necessary to follow this important lawsuit, I've written an outline of my future posts, which I present here.  As I get each article finished and published I'll turn each article into a link to the published article.  So if you find these article useful you might want to go back and bookmark this outline.

I won't necessarily finish the articles in the order in which they appear in the outline.  The inflow of information will dictate the order.

Here are the things I view as important to understanding the lawsuit.

  1. The Players 
  2. The Technology
    • Android
    • Java
    • Dalvik
  3. The details of the filing
  4. The Law
    • Patent Law
    • How patent lawsuits are handled
    • Copyright law
  5. The Ethics
  6. Possible impacts
  7. The patents at issue

If you think I'm missing some component to understanding this case post a comment here.  If you think I'm in error in a particular article post a comment to that article.

    Sunday, August 15, 2010

    Oracle v Google -- getting started

    Before I begin to summarize what might actually be going on in the Oracle v Google lawsuit,  it might be a good idea to aggregate some of the information already on the web to give readers a chance to draw their own preliminary conclusions.  The links I'm posting are the sources of information I've found so far, and I've tried to edit them down to reduce the redundancy and provide a good starting point for really figuring out what's going on.

    The most important document for understanding the case (although if you're not a lawyer it may not be the first thing you'll want to read) is the complaint itself, which was filed in the United States District Court -- Northern District of California.

    The law firms representing Oracle  in the case are Morrison and Foerster LLP, and Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP

    Here is a link to Oracle's press release on the suit.

    ... and a link to a TechCrunch article quoting a response Google sent via email.

    For basic info the the following articles are representative of what the press is carrying at the moment:

    Epic smackdown looms in Google vs Oracle  from

    Lawsuit may signal era of Oracle, Google tensions  from the Economic Times (India)

    Oracle sues Google over Android from Mashable

    Here's an interesting blog from Taylor Buley at Forbes, which raises a question I had pondered.  Why didn't Oracle file the suit in the Eastern  District of Texas, which is a patent troll's paradise?  I'll have to mull over Buley's reasoning, but the reasons behind the chosen venue is a good point to ponder.

    Groklaw, which has long been the best (though most partisan) site for following the various SCO lawsuits will be following Oracle v Google in depth.

    Finally, here is Richard Stallman's call to arms Fighting Software Patents.  It doesn't have any direct bearing on Oracle's chances of success, but it's a nice little manifesto to review when an important software patent case arises.

    Saturday, August 14, 2010

    Oracle versus Google -- Farewell to Sun's legacy

    Under most circumstances I avoid writing on topics which saturate the news media.  After all, the title of this blog is "Off the Beaten Path in Technology".  But the OracleGoogle lawsuit has so many ramifications for the future of technological innovation that I intend to cover it regularly and in depth.

    I'll be writing a tutorial series on the lawsuit after the dust settles a bit and after I've had time to research the issue properly, but I do want to make a somewhat personal statement about this case.

    I worked as a solaris sysadmin for quite a few years.  As annoying as Sun Microsystems could be to deal with,  I came to respect them as a font of innovation.  I'm not going to attempt to list all the contributions of Sun Microsystems to the computer science and technology world, but a few notable recent ones are Java, zfs, dtrace, and the Open Office suite.

    When Oracle acquired Sun my first reaction was alarm, and nothing that  has transpired since the takeover has softened my reaction.   With Oracle in charge the likelihood of any remnant of Sun's culture surviving is miniscule.

    Although I'm going to cover the lawsuit in as accurate and balanced a manner as I can under the circumstances, Oracle has unleashed the potential for significant damage to  the innovative impulse in the computer technology world.  Software patents are a bad idea,  and provide  fertile ground for those law firms best described as patent trolls.  No matter what the outcome of the suit it's likely to damage Java as both a language and a platform.