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.
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).
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, 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.