Open sourcers unveil .NET plans

Open Source developer Miguel de Icaza, leader of the GNOME project and founder of Boston-based Ximian, is a fan of Microsoft's .NET.

Icaza, one of the true stars of the open source movement, has been telling reporters in recent days that he is impressed with the Microsoft approach to providing all products on the Internet, and that .NET lets Microsoft start with a clean slate and build for the future. And, he gushes, .NET is "a development environment for the next twenty years."

"Five years ago, we [open source developers] had the high ground in technical tools," Icaza said in a recent interview. "We had better tools and a better development environment than Windows developers. With .NET, I see that the roles have changed and Windows developers have much better tools than we have. Ours are good but not as good or as integrated [as .NET tools]. Within that context, I can see how developers might use Visual Studio instead of free software to develop applications—especially if they are not concerned with freedom, and the ideas behind free software." Given this view, Ximian's launching of a community initiative to develop an open source, Linux-based version of the Microsoft .NET development platform was not surprising. Called the Mono Project, the initiative will provide a development framework designed to allow users to create, deploy, and run .NET compatible applications on the Linux platform.

Microsoft has begun flirting with an open approach to .NET. The Redmond, WA-based company joined with Canadian software maker, Corel, recently in a joint effort to make .NET tools and technologies available on the FreeBSD platform under the terms of the Microsoft "shared source" license.

However "shared source" is not quite the no-strings-attached approach of true open-source development. Supporters of the Mono Project claim that it will provide open source developers with a true "build once, deploy anywhere" tool set that takes advantage of the services enabled by .NET. Under the terms of the GPL and the LGPL licenses used by the Mono Project, developers can write and distribute commercial and proprietary applications, something that is not possible with the Microsoft "shared source" license.

The Mono Project will incorporate key .NET-compliant components, including a C# compiler, a Common Language Runtime just-in-time compiler, and a full suite of class libraries. According to Ximian, the Mono Project will allow developers to create .NET applications that can run on any Mono-supported platform, including Windows, Linux and Unix.

Is the open source movement about to be swallowed by the monolith from Redmond? Hardly. Open sourcers tend to burn with a religious fervor that even the wet weather in Washington is unlikely to dampen. As open sourcers turn their attention to .NET, it is more likely that the move will increase the importance and popularity of the .NET strategy while diminishing Microsoft's control over the software itself.

"This is a defining moment for the open source community and Linux," said high-tech book publisher Tim O'Reilly. "The Internet infrastructure has always been based on open source. The Mono Project is an essential step in making sure that remains true as the Internet evolves."

"The best way to ensure the integrity of .NET is to see whether it's possible to create a high-quality alternative implementation based on the specification," said Michael Tiemann, CTO at Red Hat. "The Mono project, protected with GPL licensing, will ensure that communications about the strengths, weaknesses, and outright flaws in the .NET architecture can be intelligently discussed and responsibly executed."

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].