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Victory! Murky Mono Legal Issues Settled. Or Are They? - page 2

Microsoft's Community Promise

  • July 22, 2009
  • By Bruce Byfield

Even so, it took several months for Brian Goldfarb, Microsoft's Lead Product Manager of the Web Platform and Tools team to resolve the issue. "It actually took them a very long time, first to identify who's responsible for that and then to find the right legal people who needed to wade into this thing," de Izaca says. "I'm very thankful to Brian for going and doing this thing on top of everything else he has to do. He has his plate pretty full. But he went ahead."

As described on his blog, de Izaca plans to divided Mono source code into two repositories. One will include the ECMA-covered libraries, and the other Mono's implementation of ASP.NET, ADO.NET, and Winforms. By making this division, de Icaza presumably hopes to make clear to developers at a glance what code they are working with.

Lingering doubts and celebrations

Asked whether the announcement removes the uncertainty from Mono, de Izaca replies, "It definitely clears Mono from Microsoft." But even in his moment of triumph, de Izaca is cautious. "Remember that the patent system doesn't work 'that simply'. Somebody else might have a claim."

In addition, de Izaca notes that the Community Promise currently extends only to the ECMA 4 standard. With the ECMA 5 standard currently being written, with its release scheduled for the end of the year, at least theoretically, Mono might find itself back in the same position as it was before the announcement.

However, de Izaca apparently thinks that the possibility is remote. "Microsoft doesn't get enough credit for what they do open source," he says. "We could write 'Mono' or really have it as a viable system without all those pieces, like Dynamic Language RunTime."

By contrast, those who were cautious about Mono or opposed to it are more cautious. For instance, Peter Brown, Executive Director at the Free Software Foundation, remains skeptical that the uncertainties have been resolved overnight, and has adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

"How can we move on?" Brown asks rhetorically. "The easiest thing would be for Microsoft to make a clear statement about its intentions going forward. I don't want to classify what they're doing, because for all I know they have good intentions. Maybe they grind slowly; I can accept that. But do we have concerns about Microsoft? Of course we do. There's lot of reasons for that. So please, Microsoft, give us clarity."

More specifically, Richard Stallman, President and Founder of the Free Software Foundation, comments, "Even assuming Microsoft follows through on this announcement and covers ECMA 334 and 335 under the Community Promise, this will not be sufficient to protect us against the dangers . . . . That's because Mono implements, and Tomboy depends upon, a number of libraries which are 'standard' in the sense that they're under C#'s "System" namespace (indicating that they're part of the standard library) and provided in Microsoft's implementation, but somewhat pointedly excluded from the ECMA specifications.

"Also, it seems that the Community Promise shares some of the weaknesses of their other patent promises. So they have taken a step closer to promising not to sue over C#, but they still have not got there."

However, no expert legal opinion has been given about the announcement yet. I did contact the Software Freedom Law Center, which promised to get back to me, but it did not do so before this article was submitted.

At any rate, as de Izaca says, "I don't think that this is going to be enough for the most extreme people. In my opinion, a lot of critics have invested a lot of hate in Microsoft, and there's really nothing that will move them from the position."

But so far as the Mono community is concerned, few doubts remain. "The Mono people are pretty excited, because I think we are tired of eight years of discussing this thing," de Izaca says.

He talks of reactions pouring in since the announcement was made: Of Aaron Bockover, the development lead on the Banshee media player, celebrating the news at the Gran Canaria Desktop Summit; of Sandy Armstrong of the Tomboy project, regaining heart after being depressed by Stallman's anti-Mono statements; and of Jono Bacon, Ubuntu's community manager, celebrating the fact that he can now focus on including best-of-breed software and ignore licensing concerns.

"Mono developers are pretty excited at this point," de Icaza says in an understated tone.

And de Icaza? "I look forward to having a blast, without the issue of patents coming up in every conversation. There's not a very clear cut answer to the question of patents. It's a complicated subject, and bringing it up just derails the entire conversation. You have to go into nuance, and people's personal backgrounds, and people feel very attached to these things, so they make conversation very cumbersome. And I'm really looking forward to going and just doing some fun hacking."

We'll know for sure in a few days whether the celebration is premature or not.

Article courtesy of Datamation

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