Google outflanks Sun with Android

Google recently released the highly anticipated Android mobile phone platform to developers. Android promises to be a more consistent and powerful environment for mobile applications compared to what currently exists in the fragmented mobile market. Whilst many people were disappointed that Android was not a Google-branded iphone; from a developers perspective if it can gain broad adoption it will make the developing powerful, Internet-centric mobile applications significantly easier.

One of the most interesting aspects of Android is that it is released under the Apache v2 software license. This license grants obligation-free use of the code to any party. This is different to other popular open-source licenses like the GPL which requires source-code modifications to be made publically available. In the competitive mobile phone market such an obligation is problematic which is why Sun releases the Java Mobile Edition (ME) under different open and closed source licenses.

A question that was hanging around Android was how Google had managed to release a Java mobile platform under the Apache license given that the licenses Sun release JavaME under are not compatible. Stefano Mazzocchi points out on his blog that Google have outflanked Sun by releasing a platform that supports the Java language but does not use Sun's Java compiler or the Java byte-code at its core. Instead Google have created Dalvik, a virtual machine released under the Apache license which understands how to compile Java source code into its own byte-code for execution.

This move outflanks Sun's licensing policies, essentially cutting them out of the Android equation. It is a gutsy move by Google but it does free them to focus on developing a platform they have complete control over rather than working in partnership with Sun. From the perspective of Java as a language this move wouldn't seem to pose any problems as the mobile and desktop/server worlds have always been quite distinct. Plus if anything Google's use of the Apache Harmony JavaSE libraries may actually make developing for the mobile and desktop more consistent than Sun's distinct JavaME and JavaSE implementations.

All things considered this news has made Android more interesting from my perspective. Before I heard this it was just another JavaME implementation but now it sounds like Google will have the capability to do some really interesting things. What has yet to be seen is what level of support (if any) this platform will have on the iPhone. Google and Apple have a strong relationship there and it would seem like Dalvik runtime would be a natural fit on the device if it is lightweight, fast and provides developers with the ability to write applications for both Android and the iPhone.