Summary: Supporters of Mono answer questions that are not even asked — a pattern which requires simple clarification
ACCORDING to a recent poll, 73% of GNU/Linux users at Tux Machines say “No” to Mono; the number may be greater after Stallman’s statement on this sensitive subject. But from those who defend Mono (a minority that includes the Microsoft and Novell crowd) we keep receiving the same misguided rebuttals that escape the real issues and typically divert the debate to straw men or false premises.
There are two key issues to discuss when it comes to Mono:
- Intimidation and software patents, which are related to one another because the latter enables the former and offers leverage
- Control of APIs, which again is a matter of leverage
It is not about performance, level of use, or even portability, which Java and C++, for example, already cater for. These are hardly the aspects being criticised.
“Our hostile critics wrongly insinuate that Mono skeptics want it abolished, but it could not be further from the truth.”Mono sympathisers are frequently Mono developers* and some suggest a compromise: “My personal final verdict? Mono should be treated by distribution makers as something that is “legally sticky” and should be included much in the sense that audio and video codecs, or flash are “included” in the distribution. For example, the mp3 codec is not distributed in large by most distributions, because its a legally sticky inclusion.”
Our hostile critics wrongly insinuate that Mono skeptics want it abolished, but it could not be further from the truth. It is not an elimination of choice or freedom, thus no intolerance should be implied; it’s about prudence. The crux of the matter is inclusion by default, not inclusion in the repositories. The downside, however, is that the API issue remains. This was never solely a question of software patents. As this one person puts it, “Linux is being tamed.”
Assuming Mono gets shoved into Linux and gains acceptance, then Linux is “tamed.” Even without the patent threat, even if C# is some sort of “standard,” Microsoft still defines .NET and everything about it. From past behavior it’s quite evident that they know how to walk the fine line of bending “standards” to their will and marketplace benefit. Mono gives Microsoft power over a major Linux Desktop API, and the ability to make sure it’s always the “second platform”, always a day late and a dollar short.
The other interesting thing about Mono is that nobody is asking for it.
In a similar vein, Microsoft used Novell to push OOXML into OpenOffice.org. Mistakes need not be repeated. On the legal side, there is more of Stallman.
Stallman says “Don’t depend on Mono”
The debate over Mono has simmered ever since the Mono C# implementation was announced. The suspicion has been that Microsoft have patents that are relevant to C# and are just waiting for Linux developers to become comfortable with Mono so they can pull the rug out from under Linux. Mono’s defenders point out that Mono itself is an implementation of the ECMA standard for C# and that the patents that are usually referred to belong to the higher .Net layers which run on C# based systems, but aren’t implemented as a core part of Mono. Microsoft made a statement in 2003 saying the patents which are relevant to the ECMA/ISO standard are “royalty-free and otherwise RAND”; a somewhat confusing statement without saying which technology falls under the royalty free and which is under RAND terms (Reasonable And Non Discriminatory).
In some ways though, the worries about Mono are of the Mono project’s own making. By having the project implement both the ECMA/ISO covered elements and the more obviously patented ASP.NET, ADO.NET and Windows.Forms components, the lines have been blurred for many as to what is or is not patent safe. Stallman’s statement says that all C# implementations are potentially unsafe from a patent attack from Microsoft.
We wrote some more about this in:
- Why free software shouldn’t depend on Mono or C# — by Richard M. Stallman
- Responses to Richard Stallman’s Verdict on Mono
- Microsoft and Novell Still Fight for .NET Inside GNU/Linux
This debate is not an easy one, but the sooner it is resolved, the better. █
* This post is from David Siegel, now a Canonical employee who made GNOME-Do. In his rebuttal he is escaping all the real issues and pretending it’s a matter of supply and demand. To trivialise the issue like this is simply to deceive.