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06.13.09

Fedora “Concerned” About Mono for Legal Reasons, Ubuntu Debate Carries on

Posted in Debian, GNU/Linux, Law, Microsoft, OSI, Patents, Ubuntu at 9:23 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Summary: Opposition to Mono grows in some GNU/Linux distributions and run over in others

THIS is a quick update about the Mono situation. We’ll treat some of the key distributions in turn, at least where developments exist.

Red Hat/Fedora

In a timely new report, Fedora leader and Red Hat employee Paul Frields admits that the company is looking into possible legal issues relating to Mono.

That said, Frields also told me that in his view there are some problems with the language used in the legalese surrounding Mono and its redistribution.

“We do have some serious concerns about Mono and we’ll continue to look at it with our legal counsel to see what if any steps are needed on our part,” Frields said.

While Mono is part of Fedora, Mono is not part of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and hasn’t been since 2006. It’s not clear if mono will stay or go for the final Fedora 12 release when it appears 6 months from now.

“We haven’t come to a legal conclusion that is pat enough for us to make the decision to take mono out,” Frields said. “Right now we’re in a status quo. Gnote is a relatively recent development and unfortunately was too late in the Fedora 11 development cycle to include by default.”

Response from proponents of Mono would be helpful. The very fact that Red Hat is looking into it suggests that there is uncertainty and quite likely a real problem. Fedora has already rejected Moonlight for legal reasons (Microsoft licences/covenants for starters).

Canonical/Ubuntu

One person believes that Mono does not belong in Ubuntu by default (printed on CDs, as opposed to patent-encumbered codecs for example). It is very important to make the distinction between inclusion by default and inclusion in the repositories. If Mono-based programs are as great as their proponents claim they are, then people will install them. It is very trivial to achieve in Ubuntu and those who wish to accept the risk of Mono will do so by personal choice, not a choice imposed by those with unquestioned affinity for Mono.

Now when I install Ubuntu and therefor Gnome, it does not pull in Wine at all. In fact, I’ve been running Ubuntu without wine for most of the past 5 years. So killing wine would only affect people still locked in to certain windows programs and not have any effect of the Free Desktop by itself.

In contrast, removing mono rips out F-Spot and Tomboy and even the Ubuntu-desktop meta-package. You see, Ubuntu uses a lot of mono-apps by default and even vanilla-Gnome includes Tomboy and as such, depends on mono. Yes, replacing Tomboy is easy, but what if Evolution also comes to depend on mono, or Nautilus or gnome-panel? Then ripping out mono means the end of the Gnome Desktop.

Another new perspective goes like this:

The Ubuntu/Mono debate continues…

[...]

My perspective on the Mono thing is from that of a user and not a developer. I really fail to see why anyone would want to build new applications on top of a framework that has so many unanswered questions and causes so much angst in the community as a whole. We have plenty of other solutions that are – if not 100% free from controversy – certainly far less likely to end up requiring the kind of backtracking or complete re-writing that Jo describes above.

Software patents are not the only issue at play. As Microsoft puts it [PDF], “Every line of code that is written to our standards is a small victory; every line of code that is written to any other standard, is a small defeat.” One reader of ours adds: “Maybe that is some of what Mono is about: porting security flaws, bad design and vulnerabilities to new platforms.”

But looking at patents in isolation, one person asks whether it is an issue only in a minority of countries.

Is mono a problem outside the US and other patent friendly countries?

[...]

As Canonical is based in the EU this should not give the Ubuntu community any issue by itself. So keep any patent related problem for United-States based distributions and leave Ubuntu alone. Or move to a country that enforces your freedom all-day-every-day!

The situation is unfortunately quite different. TomTom, for example, is based in Europe, but Microsoft brought software patents to a case against it. Microsoft got its way for reasons we explained before.

As a matter of fact, at this very moment we are seeing attempts by the Microsoft lobby to make software patent fully enforceable in Europe (and not just Europe, either). The other day we wrote about what the EPLA had been doing and Glyn Moody has more to say about the latest findings:

More whining from the anti-software patent lot? Well, not actually. These words were written by Alison Crofts, who:

provides specialist IP advice and expertise in both litigation and commercial matters. This includes advising on: the creation, protection and exploitation of IP rights, including trade secrets, confidentiality issues, technology transfer agreements and licensing; the enforcement and defence of IP rights, including the conduct of litigation and arbitration proceedings; and IP aspects of joint ventures, co-ownership and transactions. Alison has an engineering background and has particular experience in the semiconductor, oil and gas, hi-tech and telecoms engineering industries.

In other words, she’s likely to be for rather than against software patents.

The OSI too is openly protesting against software patents at the moment. Its president understands the importance of this.

I’ve heard a lot of arguments against software patents (SWPAT) since Richard Stallman first raised the flag at the League for Programming Freedom, and almost all of the arguments are variations on a theme. A valid theme, but a theme that, after 20 years, has become a bit monotonous. Herman Daly puts that theme in a new context that has me all excited. He says

Stop treating the scarce as if it were non-scarce, but also stop treating the non-scarce as if it were scarce. Enclose the remaining commons of rival natural capital (e.g. atmosphere, electromagnetic spectrum, public lands) in public trusts, and price it by a cap-auction-trade system, or by taxes, while freeing from private enclosure and prices the non-rival commonwealth of knowledge and information.

Until software patents are eliminated altogether — and there is a chance this might happen with sufficient public support — Mono will continue to be a weapon of FUD to Microsoft (and Novell). They’ll vilify — in a whisper campaign (behind-closed-doors) fashion — those who don’t offer "intellectual property peace of mind". Microsoft President Bob Muglia says that Mono is “being driven by Novell, and one of the attributes of the agreement we made with Novell is that the intellectual property associated with that is available to Novell customers.” What about Ubuntu users? OpenSUSE users? Fedora Users? Debian users?

Debian

Debian, unlike Fedora and Ubuntu, does not have a commercial entity behind it. Well, at least not in the sense that a company actually owns Debian. Some people have decided to treat this as an open door to a form of civil disobedience, so rather than claim that Mono has no legal issues, it is being added to Debian (by default) because legal issues can be disregarded.

For those who haven’t been following closely, the explanation behind Jo Shields’ recent post instructing us on the greatness of Mono and the Microsoft .NET approach to software development could be found in the fact that Josselin Mouette has decided that Mono must be part of the default desktop install for Debian Squeeze.

There are some interesting comments to be found in there and also cheap shots like the one we've been getting because Mono is “holy” or “sacred” (it cannot be criticised, it’s a taboo). It would be a lot more constructive to carry a technical discussion which also makes use of Red Hat’s assessment. Fedora already lists Moonlight under “forbidden” items for legal reasons and it is only now taking a closer look at Mono. So to simply toss Mono into Debian (by default) under the premise that “Mono doesn’t suck” and software patents are already void (i.e. made history prematurely ) is not the best way to proceed.

There are those who propose looking at Vala, so there is clearly acknowledgment that Mono presents/poses a dilemma.

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30 Comments

  1. Needs Sunlight said,

    June 13, 2009 at 11:43 am

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    There are also quality concerns with Mono. Like any other MS product it’s unrelaible, a resource hog and slow. Java, which has been the butt of MS smear campaigns, is where the smart money is. It’s been years since MS was caught violating a contract to screw over Java. (Search for the word “java” in
    http://www.usdoj.gov/atr/cases/f1700/1762.htm) Let’s leave MS’ java bashing in the past by washing our hands and our distros of Mono.

    David Gerard Reply:

    As I’ve said repeatedly: why the heck would anyone bother with the cheap copy of Java known as Mono when there’s Java that’s actual free software? It really doesn’t make any plausible sense at all.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Mono is the wannabe of a wannabe (wannabe of .NET, which is a Java wannabe). Java is no longer proprietary, so where is the dispute?

    In a similar vein, some people knock KDE or Qt by kicking a dead horse. There are no licensing issues anymore.

    David Gerard Reply:

    Yeah. The GNOME vs KDE or GTK vs Qt issues are now basically of substance, i.e. technical issues and market penetration (and whether a user needs to load a few hundred meg of libs to use an app). The real issue between the two remains that users shouldn’t have to care if an app is GNOME or KDE because everything should look the same and Just Work. Freedesktop.org has done sterling work to this end.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    The “fragmentation” myths (FUD) refuse to die nonetheless.

    Yfrwlf Reply:

    Fragmentation is something you always need to be concerned about, as it effects your freedom. Freedesktop’s work needs to continue to help make Qt and GTK as interoperable as possible, not to mention any and all other desktop environments, by developing good and flexible standards which allow continued development and progress.

    vello Reply:

    Actually, the biggest amount of work regarding Qt + Gtk interoperability have been done by Qt folk. So currently (Ubuntu Jaunty), Qt apps do look right at home on Gnome desktop.

    I’m surprised why Boycott Novell exhibits so much Gnome love, when it’s Gnome that is engaging in all these shenanigans about C#, Mono…

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    vello,

    I use GNOME. GTK and GNOME are not the problem, maybe just a small subset of the associated work.

  2. Anonymous said,

    June 13, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Gravatar

    I thought one of the advantages of FOSS was the freedom of choice? If there are developers who feel Mono is worth developing on, they should be able to do it without the rest of the community belittling their choice of tools.

    Anyway, I feel all this talk on Mono is a waste of time. Shouldn’t we be focusing on software patents, which is the larger threat here? If we can get rid of software patents, Mono will not be that much of a risk. There is no point in telling users to avoid Mono if there is some obscure patent that the Linux kernel or some other language implementation is infringing.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    By all means we spend a lot of time here covering software patents. We also identify Mono as a greater threat because of the patentor.

    Anonymous Reply:

    That might be so, but I personally think if Microsoft is going to target Linux, they would go after things which enable interoperability (such as Samba and FAT) to ensure lock-in. I think they would leave Mono to the last seeing as there are companies that are using it. It would be very unwise of them to alienate ISVs which could be targeting Windows as well.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    That can’t happen to Samba.

    Anonymous Reply:

    An interesting article. I will have to agree with you on this one. But I still think Samba is a greater danger to Microsoft as it allows enterprises to move towards Linux whilst Mono allows potential lock-in towards Microsoft technologies thus encouraging people to move towards Windows.

    That being said. I think both of them are evil. Necessary evil perhaps, but still dangerously evil.

    P.S. I don’t see a reply link to your latest post. A bug?

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    No, there’s maximal depth.

  3. Zac said,

    June 13, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Gravatar

    Microsoft WILL NOT take any action with regard to mono. I REPEAT, IT WILL NOT. They will not waste their time.

    What are we doing? Do we need Microsoft to fragment and create endless disruption in Linux sucking and diverting our energy? Hell no!
    Can’t you see we are doing it ourselves? Microsoft don’t need to spend a dime. Stop handing a gift to Microsoft.

    Red Hat’s Fedora to stop using mono for legal reasons? That is not the reason. Red Hat is a profitable public company whose obligation is to it’s shareholders and investors. Fedora is used as a base for their RHEL product and because of this Fedora has a different target audience than that of, say, Ubuntu. This is the fundamental reason for the decision, not for legal reasons. I don’t know what Red Hat’s or Fedora’s game is but this is flaming the issue. There are many vocal Linux users that are taking this bait not knowing what the implications are. You are destroying Linux yourselves people.

    To Microsoft: Sit back and watch the show.

    aeshna23 Reply:

    Given the Tom-Tom case, can you construct a credible argument why Microsoft “will not waste their time” about Mono?

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Exactly.. It needs an argument.

    Yfrwlf Reply:

    While you’re right that fragmenting your competitors and trying to create free software vs. free software wars is one thing that Microsoft wants, if developers choose to support non-Microsoft platforms and instead support other things like Java, C, Python, etc, then of course they are completely free to do so. Working together on one project is best but only if it fits your needs, and many concerned Linux users and developers aren’t finding that .NET and Silverlight are platforms they want to develop on, as much as Microsoft would love seeing that happen. Something about, oh, patent threats and slamming Linux with patent allegations and in general being the direct competitor of Linux for some reason turns them off.

    Mix in some hard facts about what kind of company Microsoft is, their patent threats against Linux, and in general an extreme disgust of everything Microsoft can easily form. This is surprising?

    It’s a mindshare war, but if you’re on the fence trying to decide about who to work for and what platforms to support, looking and the licenses, patents, and the general ethicalness and niceness of the platforms you are considering is important for your well being. No one wants to see their work be in vain due to the strings that happened to be attached to it.

    eet Reply:

    A point-on analysis, Zac!

  4. Yfrwlf said,

    June 14, 2009 at 2:28 am

    Gravatar

    Countering Microsoft’s moves is a waste of time? Then why are they spending the energy and money to make those moves to begin with?

    They’re simply trying to keep themselves entrenched in the market, like they’ve stated they want to keep “critical mass”, so any spread of their “platform” which includes Windows and .NET/Mono will do one of two things:

    a) help others migrate away from them
    b) help others migrate towards them

    But even if you try to pick which Mono will do, for them either one of these may be much better than

    c) no compatibility, dump one or the other

    Because then they can’t even keep *any* kind of Microsoft dependency around.

    So free OSes have gotten to the point where Microsoft has entered a phase where it needs to play nicely with these competitors by doing a or b, because c apparently is resulting in dumping Microsoft more often than not in the face of competition with free software.

    In other words, they’d like you to keep at least your Exchange server around, instead of dumping the entire integrated Microsoft system for an all-free one.

    Any way, like aeshna23 mentioned, if you’re so concerned with patents then who’s API would you use for your system, one coming from a company which has attacked Linux for patent violations and has attacked Linux-using companies, or companies which are much more open and nicer in general and have legal claims to that openness? Java or Mono? OpenGL or DirectX? etc

  5. Yfrwlf said,

    June 14, 2009 at 2:32 am

    Gravatar

    I wanted to ask if anyone had bothered making an ISO of Ubuntu not coming injected with Mono yet? I hear Debian lacks it…

    Microsoft will keep going after whoever is the biggest. ASUS is the first to really spread netbooks? Windowsified. Ubuntu is the most popular desktop OS? Injected.

    I just wonder how big the payments/kickbacks were for all this Microsoft software pushing. Not that that was the case with Ubuntu but it could be and of course wouldn’t be surprising.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    The concern is that they use Ubuntu as ‘proof’ that Mono is OK.

    In a similar vein, Microsoft uses the TomTom settlement as ‘proof’ that more companies need to pay for FAT patents. It is done behind the scenes.

    Yfrwlf Reply:

    Sure, or in other words, from their viewpoint, any improvement in the acceptance of their own software and “platforms” is a small win, a small victory in the mindshare war.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    They’ll claim that .NET has won on all counts. Novell is giving it to them.

    Yfrwlf Reply:

    You know, that is part of the open source assimilation that they are after, too. What *are* Linux and the other free OSes? You can largely say they are part of the free software movement, and a movement is a community effort and want for a particular thing. So what’s the first thing you go after? Trying to get the same “energy” geared towards your own platform.

    Microsoft wants you to like them, they want to be seen as your “open source buddy”. I don’t think you will ever again hear statements like were made when they told the press about Linux patent infringement ever again. They will talk about it internally, and if more memos slip out, but otherwise you won’t hear it. They know they’re in trouble, and they won’t let PR slip out like that again if they can help it because it makes them seem like they aren’t open source buddies when that happens.

    That’s because it’s true that they aren’t. You’re not using Windows, that’s a problem. Bad Roy, bad. Your paycheck is supposed to be mailed directly to Microsoft, what were you thinking? :P

  6. Yfrwlf said,

    June 14, 2009 at 4:09 am

    Gravatar

    Oh and btw they are REALLY pushing users to make stuff on their Xbox 360 platform for instance. It’s pretty sickening, really, they have kids on there making stuff for Microsoft’s own walled garden, and of course they LOVE that, $$$. “User-generated content” is the shizzle for a lot of companies right now, using the community as best they can to spread the word about their products, and get users wrapped up in them as best they can. If you *want* to of course then that’s your choice, but everyone needs to realize that that is what is going on and think about alternatives which could give them more freedom. Have fun, AND be free at the same time. Much awesomer. ^^

    So ya, I’ll stick with Java/C/Python/Others. ;)

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Yes, it enriches their franchise.

    “Developers, developers, developers, developers…”

  7. Jacob Peddicord said,

    June 14, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Gravatar

    I suppose I didn’t make it completely clear with my post, though I didn’t expect it to get this kind of attention. I posted about Vala[0] to see what people had to say from a technical standpoint about it, not as a “safe haven” from Mono due to legal reasons.

    [0] http://jacob.peddicord.net/blog/2009/06/12/mono-v-vala-fight/

  8. Yuhong Bao said,

    June 15, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Gravatar

    Well, I don’t think Ubuntu having Mono by default is as bad as Ubuntu signing a Microsoft-Novell like deal, but yea you still have to be careful here.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Did anyone make such a point?

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