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Of Monopolies and Mono

Mono and the Endless Controversy

  • July 9, 2009
  • By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
Mono, the open-source development environment based on Microsoft's .NET, has really gotten people ticked off lately. The long and short of the argument is that Mono is a Trojan-horse that will introduce Microsoft poisoned patents into Linux. After, Richard M. Stallman, free-software's dad wrote, "Debian's decision to include Mono in its principal way of installing GNOME, for the sake of Tomboy which is an application written in C#, leads the community in a risky direction. It is dangerous to depend on C#, so we need to discourage its use," the fight was on.

Or, it should be said, the fight had been renewed. Stallman and many others, had often objected over the years to Linux, or other free software users embracing Mono's implementation of C# or application written in Mono.

Stallman believes that "The danger is that Microsoft is probably planning to force all free C# implementations underground some day using software patents. This is a serious danger, and only fools would ignore it until the day it actually happens. We need to take precautions now to protect ourselves from this future danger." Of course, no one is suggesting that any part of Linux, or any other operating system, be written in Mono. The problem is that several popular open-source programs like Tomboy, a well-regarded note-taking program; Moonlight/Moonshine, which enables users to listen and view Windows Media-bound music and videos on Linux; and Banshee, a Linux music player, are based on Mono.

Is merely including such applications in a Linux distribution a real problem? Nope, not according to the Ubuntu Technical Board. The committee decided that "We will ship the best available free software applications, in the judgment of the relevant development team; the desktop team has responsibility for desktop application selection, as is natural. In a small number of cases, Mono applications have been selected there on their merits. At present, were there to be an issue, Mono would be easy to extricate. Making it more of a core requirement is likely to encounter some performance concerns at present anyway, since the budget for desktop startup is increasingly tight as we work on boot performance." So, as far as Ubuntu is concerned, "Mono is very well-maintained in Ubuntu and there appears to be no significant cause for concern over its IP [intellectual property] situation. We will attempt to clarify in suitable places what developers and/or rights holders should do in the event that they have evidence of a problem."

Microsoft itself, through, has tried to defuse the situation by making it clear that it will not use its potential patent clout on Mono developers. Peter Galli, a Microsoft open-source community manager, publicly announced on the Microsoft Open Source blog that Microsoft wouldn't go after developers using the "C# programming language ... and Common Language Infrastructure (CLI)." This is Mono's core.

But, leaving aside for now how trustworthy Microsoft is, how dangerous is Mono really?

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