Open Source Tries .Net; Future Unclear

Ximian's Mono Project development could meet with resistance from Microsoft over licensing

The open-source communitys attempt to develop code for Microsoft Corp.s .Net platform may be met with resistance from Microsoft, raising questions about how cross-platform .Net may ultimately be.

Linux distributor Ximian Inc. last week announced the Mono Project, its line of open-source replacement parts for .Net products; Mono would include ways to run C# programs and the .Net CLI (Common Language Infrastructure) on Linux.

According to Ximian co-founder and Chief Technical Officer Miguel de Icaza, Mono would use only specifications Microsoft has submitted to the ECMA standards body. Mono developers would write all the code for their own implementations. As such, the project should not conflict with Microsofts licensing terms, de Icaza said.

But Tony Goodhew, product manager for Shared Source and CLI for Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., is not so sure. While he welcomed the Mono Project as a "ringing endorsement" of Microsofts Web services strategy, he cautioned that it was up to whomever wanted to implement .Net standards to ensure that whatever license is used is compatible with Microsofts shared-source and ECMA conditions.

"If Ximian needs any of our intellectual property to do their implementation, and it is quite likely that they will, then that implementation will have to be licensed under our terms," Goodhew said.

While Microsoft relaxed its licensing conditions with OEM partners after the U.S. Court of Appeals last month found that a number of its past licensing policies were "restrictive, anti-competitive and violated Section 2 of the Sherman Act," Microsoft is unlikely to relinquish any part of its intellectual property to the open-source community. Ximian and its Mono Project could become tied up in legal and licensing issues that could limit the scope of .Net on platforms other than Windows.

Some developers expressed dismay that Microsoft is trying to control the standards. Tom Wesson, a programmer in Chicago, said now that the specification has been submitted to ECMA, "[Microsoft] shouldnt be licensing it out and controlling the terms of use. I mean, if youre going to submit something, do so and then let go," Wesson said.

Ximians de Icaza, in Boston, also acknowledged that the Mono Project would be slow to take off, as it needed to reach a level of usability before gaining broad developer interest.

But the jury is still out on whether the Mono Project will succeed. Linus Torvalds told eWeek that while he did not like commenting on unfinished projects—"and right now both .Net and Mono are just that—Im certain that if .Net ends up being successful, Linux will certainly be able to coexist with it.

"Thats the nature of open source. Whether Mono is the specific project to make that happen or not, only time will tell. As to the fact that Microsoft dislikes the GPL—what can they do?" Torvalds said. "Its not as if they have the power to enforce their opinions on other people. Thank God."