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IcedRobot Will Take Android Beyond Smartphones: Exclusive Interview

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A group of developers has announced a project called IcedRobot which will make it possible to run Android apps on non-Android platforms. Something similar to what Alien Dalvik is trying to do.

However, there is a significant difference between the two projects, what is it? How is IcedRobot going to affect the Oracle-Google court battle? How is it going to make life easier for developers? How is it going to make life easier for users? We got in touch with one of the founders of the IcedRobot to understand more about the project. Here is an exclusive interview with one of the founding members of the IcedRobot project, Mario Torre. Read on…

Swapnil: Who are the founding members or the IcedRobot project?
Mario:
Me (Mario Torre), Volker Berlin, Roman Kennke, Monica Udrea, David Fu, Natascha Scharnberg, and we consider Mark Wielaard an honouring founding member too for historical reasons (and he is helping us in setting up the infrastructure).

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Swapnil: How are you planning to attract more developers? If someone wants to join the project what is the process, whom to contact?
Mario:
We just setup a mailing list, this is the best place to ask: http://icedtea.classpath.org/mailman/listinfo/icedrobot-dev

Swapnil: What is the primary goal of IcedRobot. How is it going to change the computing landscape?
Mario:
First of all, I would like to shed some light on what this project really is not; indeed, our presentation at FOSDEM tried to highlight what are the common mis-beliefs around Android and define, within the limits of the few slides we had, what it is and what it is not.

Now, reading what has been written so far, I feel that probably we should have added a couple of slides also about what IcedRobot actually is not.

First and most importantly, IcedRobot is not a stacking against Google, neither is it a stacking toward or against Oracle, there is nothing really political in it. As boring as it may sound, this project is about coding around a cool idea.

Of course, some people think that somehow it goes against the current Google direction in the sense that our main goal and principal aim with IcedRobot is to give back control to the users.

I believe that Android is a fairly open platform, but currently there is no real and easy way to run Android applications under anything else than Android: despite the actual APIs and the services that the system relies on are widely available, you have to buy one of those (cool) devices to be able to play with Angry Birds!

I’m very interested in this Alien Dalvik project, because it basically tries to do the same what we are trying to do. But Alien Dalvik’s project is simply a step back in terms of Freedom, this thing will be proprietary, maybe free (as in beer), but still closed.

There is also another problem, Android is very fragmented, despite Google’s efforts to say otherwise. I believe this is because of the way the project is developed, but to be fair its not just Google’s fault.

The current situation in the mobile market is as bad as it was on the Desktop a few years ago, before Java started to be so popular. Back then, when you wanted to write a portable application you had to write it 10 times, just to find that it was behaving differently anyway, it was such a mess.

Today with Android, iOS, Meamo/MeeGo, Symbian, you get environments that are different from each other and there is no easy way to make things work everywhere. The Corps like this because once you invest time and money and develop knowledge on a platform, it is hard for you to go to the other platform, so they tie you in.

I believe that Java ME was suffering more than Android, this is why Android is so popular. First of all, it is consistent and well integrated. Java ME is literally an alien in the environment.  Java SE also has the same tendency. This is why it is so widespread on the server and in the corporate environment. There you don’t really care if the application looks native or not, if it accesses your Desktop settings or it simply does things differently. The platform is so powerful that it doesn’t really matter.

Android instead looks wonderful. It is clearly targeted at people that use the phones, not just for business or to solve a specific problem, but in their everyday life.

Finally, Google TV is going to be the next big thing. We thought it would make sense to make Linux use this platform, without being locked away.

If we succeed, we’re not going to change the computing landscape, we’re going to broaden it, and Oracle is definitely going to benefit from it, nothing will prevent them from using this code on some embedded device.

Swapnil: You wrote, “But one thing is probably true, if we succeed, the whole lawsuit is going to be a bad dream of the past…” My question is how is it going to affect Oracle? How will it impact the lawsuit?
Mario:
Does anybody remember the lawsuit between Sun and Microsoft? Basically, Microsoft added few (whether good or bad it doesn’t matter) “features” to the Java language. The problem is that in order to access them, developers had to make incompatible changes to their applications.

This is always a problem when you go native. You end up with something that may or may not work on other systems. But this specific case was worse, as core functionality depended on a single, vendor specific VM. Sun won back then.

Does it sound familiar?

From a very pragmatic point of view, I believe Oracle has all the rights to go the legal way. But I don’t agree with how they did it, though, and I blogged and publicly criticised this. In my opinion Oracle should have contacted the Free Software Foundation and involved the Community at the beginning, as it is unacceptable to attack a Free Software project with a patent lawsuit.

I stated again at Fosdem this year that the problem is serious, because this lawsuit came a few days after the acquisition and nobody ever said a thing to try to calm down the wave. This is why it has been seen as an attack against us (besides, everybody loves Google and hates Oracle, don’t they?)”

Even at Java One this year the atmosphere was quite heavy. While two years ago (it was still Sun) things were all nice and happy, so it’s obvious to be confused and worried.

And the recent move with the Board doesn’t help with the image that Oracle is just a giant dinosaur that is only interested in money.

The fact is this though, every year and this year especially, in that room at Fosdem (which was full and crowded) there were only two kind of people: us, the Community (including a couple of the Apache guys, but *not* Google) and Oracle. And my understanding is that they are really trying hard to keep us involved. Thanks to people like Mark Reinhold who is fun to have as a target of my puns, but I really admire and respect him a lot.

I want to add one thing. I have read that if we change too much code, we cannot be considered safe behind the GPL + Classpath Exception. I don’t agree with this, but in any case, our goal is to run Dalvik bytecode inside Hotspot, the way Jython or Clojure already do. Daneel, our bridge interpreter, is nothing less than really incredible, it just takes dex bytecode and translates it back to Java. Then Hotspot and the Class Library do the rest.

Swapnil: Who is funding/sponsoring the project?
Mario:
Nobody is doing it, hopefully we’ll get some help. But at the moment we are searching more for people rather than money. We do it completely in our free time, after all our daily duties are over, when we go home, when we feel like we want to do it. There is no company behind the scenes.

Swapnil: How do you see the future of Java post ASF’s resignation and Oracle’s growing control over OpenJDK along with IBM?
Mario:
This is still under discussion. I have yet to understand the direction it is going to take and mostly it depends on how the Board will shape the documents and itself in the near future. Of course, the way they started it makes people look at them with obvious diffidence.

That said, Oracle has informed us that this first set of rules is not written in stone yet and that it could be eventually possible to add more seats in the Board.

To be honest, if I would tell you that I don’t believe this, I would just spread out fear and doubt. The reality is that at this moment it is not appropriate to move a trial against the intent and the fact that they talk about it in the first place, is good.

We have to keep pushing things in the right direction though, but I think Oracle has understood that losing its Community would have a bad impact.

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