Are The Mono Wars Over?

The Mono Project
The Mono Project

There’s been a lot of controversy and argument over the use of Mono in the Linux world rightly or wrongly, and this long running issue recently reared it’s head again when Richard Stallman (founder of the FSF) chipped in. Now, the controversy may be over thanks to a surprising move from Microsoft themselves. It’s been talked about everywhere in the the technology press I know, but just in case you don’t know the situation, I’ll give you a quick outline. The Mono Project is an open source implementation of Microsoft’s popular .NET development framework. It enables developers to code in C# – a language developed by MS – and run their applications on a variety of platforms: Linux, Mac OS X and the iPhone amongst others. I was a professional ASP developer at the time .NET arrived on the scene, and it certainly held a lot of promise. I originally thought the idea was to enable cross-platform development in .NET by using the CLi in a similar way to the Java Virtual Machine. I even asked when there would be a CLi released for Linux and other platforms at an official Microsoft training course. My question was met with muffled laughter and it seemed the intention was not to open up .NET to other platforms. Miguel De Icaza, the creator of the Gnome desktop and well known Linux developer decided to try and address this problem with Mono. It enables .NET developers stuck on Windows to port their applications to new platforms and expand their horizons. This is all a good thing, nobody would argue against this, not even RMS himself. On the Linux desktop many popular applications have been developed with Mono such as Banshee, F-Spot, Tomboy and Gnome-Do. The problem for Mono has been a fear in the Linux community that Microsoft would wait until it had worked it’s way into the Linux desktop (and Gnome in particular) significantly, then pull their software patents out and go to town. Some people saw this as an attempt to attack Linux by stealth. This is probably exaggeration and I am no doubt that Miguel and the team would never intentionally hurt Linux at all, as some have intimated.

Alan Cox's Fine Beard
Alan Cox's Rather Fine Beard

So, this rather long preamble brings me to the dramatic news ; late on Monday night (UK time that is) Microsoft released a statement confirming that they were putting C# and the .NET CLi under their Community Promise. This is effectively a promise not to sue anyone developing with those technologies over patents held by the company. C# and the CLi were already ECMA standards, but many people within the software industry don’t put much stock in ECMA from what I’ve heard. We’ll have to wait for a full legal analysis of what this statement means, but it appears to be legally binding and cannot be withdrawn by MS. It only covers the 2 technologies already listed as ECMA standards and not all of the .NET framework it should be noted. Certainly not all of Mono like the Winforms API and ASP.NET implementations. It seems that the Mono team approached Microsoft some months ago to ask for a legal clarification of the patent situation, and MS has delivered. There’s certainly no danger of me becoming a Windows fanboy, and I don’t believe we’ll see the folks inside Redmond towers walking around in GNU t-shirts or sporting Alan Cox beards, but you do have to give credit where it is due. They didn’t have to do this and I’m pleased they have.

Miguel De Icaza in a fetching hat
Miguel De Icaza in a fetching hat

For his part Miguel has announced that they will split Mono into 2 packages; one containing only the ECMA components covered by the patent promise, and another with the extra parts of .NET Mono includes. This should hopefully make it easier for developers worried about patents to pick only the parts guaranteed as safe. I think this is a great idea and it should appease most sceptics. The really good news is that Banshee, F-Spot and other popular Mono apps are covered by this patent promise. Queue the dancing elephants and the music! I hope this will mean an end to the “mono wars” as I like to call them. We can now move on to finding something else to lose sleep over in double quick time. You know what though? If this whole saga has taught us anything, maybe it should be that we can’t live our lives in fear. Yes it’s sensible to take reasonable measures to protect yourself and be cautious at times, but our overriding concern as a community should be to develop better Free Software, not become lawyers.

I’m pleased for Miguel and the Mono team at this news. We spent about an hour chatting to him on Linux Outlaws not so long ago and he’s a very likeable guy. I think he just wants to develop better software, something that we can all agree is a laudable goal. I’m also going to say something that you won’t hear often around here but it needs to be said. Thank you Microsoft, you did a good thing here and I for one appreciate it. It’s only a step in the right direction though, let’s keep it going. Right, I’m off to commence washing my mouth out with soap… I’ll never feel clean again πŸ˜€

Does this bring an end to Mono wars? Let me know what you think in the comments. Thanks for reading.

EDIT: I forgot to say, I want to see what the SFLC says about this document. People say it’s legally binding, I’d like too hear some confirmation.


  1. The overall danger to the Linux realm is getting over-lawyered. The crusade for purity can very well cause more damage than a patent infringement case. Time spent waging a purity crusade is time not spent making software function better and is also time not spent working on Ubuntu’s Bug #1.

  2. You pretty much covered it all, yes there’s still some things like winforms that are, but that’s what that split is for. You wrote Miguel de Icasa on your first huge paragraph, but wrote it correctly as Icaza on the image and later on.

  3. Are we sure this “promise” is legally binding? Somehow it doesn’t sound sufficiently Legalese to me…

    • @Fab – Not being a lawyer I don’t know, which is why I added that line at the end. I’m waiting for someone who does know about this stuff to read through and confirm one way or another

  4. OK.
    I like how you write and think, and I appreciate how you try to be “balanced” and see the good in the situation,
    But seriously….
    Some analogies…

    A guy beats the hell out of you and your family for years, then one day he says…”ok I promise I wont beat up your sister anymore. Wow really? you didnt have to do that. Thanks so much.”
    The bully is still a bully. Change will need to be demonstrated in more than one half deed.

    Put 1 gram of s*** on one side of the scale and one gram of gold on the other, and call it balanced.
    They may weigh the same, but in the end, one is still s*** and the other is still Gold.

    Im hearing alot of phrases lately like “balanced” and “practical”.
    People seem to be losing sight of the fact that half open is not open.
    Calling a lack of integrity or conviction “balanced” or “practical” is nothing but negative compromise for the sake of convenience.
    What you choose will determine what kind of world you live in. If you support proprietary by your downloads, use, and money, that is what will thrive.
    Its JUST THAT SIMPLE. IF you let your choices add strength to those that support ideals that will produce an increasingly open society, you will have that.

    • @illumin8 – I appreciate your anger about this and I’m on your side. I didn’t say “I love Microsoft” or anything close to that. As for supporting open source with money, downloads, use etc. You are talking to someone who has never and will never own an iPod because it forces you to use proprietary software. I searched long and hard to buy a laptop without Windows on it because I don’t want any of my money going to Redmond, it cost me more but I was happy to pay it. I spend whole days every week working on a podcast that supports and promotes Free Software. I also work for the SFLC making their podcast. So please don’t tell me I have a lack of integrity because I think MS may have done one good thing. I said it’s a small positive step from them, and it is. Nothing more, nothing less. If we constantly attack them violently every time they try to make a positive move it only fuels their propaganda against us. I’m not saying we should give up our freedoms or ideals in any sense and I’m not grovelling to them, they’ve done a lot of bad things and I won’t forget them. This could be positive though, time will tell on that. Thanks for reading and commenting

  5. I need to remember that generalities dont always translate well. I need “person specific” and “general idea” tags. My comment was much more general, but by your response, it get the impression that the way i worded things sounded like a personal attack. I appologise if that is the case. I think I am more generally frustrated with some subtle trends that i see cropping up in posts, blogs and podcasts, that if left unchecked will begin to erode and undermine the social influence of opensource and freesoftware.

    As for Microsoft, I live pretty close to them, and have alot of friends that work there. There are a large number of brilliant openminded programmers there, and I am convinced that with an upper management change, Microsoft would change beyond what most people could imagine…but good luck getting Bommer out without getting hit by a chair.

    As for where you stand.. I listen to, and read that weekly and appreciate what you provide. I look forward to seeing what interesting doors open up for you from this in the future.

  6. @heathenx its a large spanish speaking monkey with one earphone.

  7. @illumin8 – Perhaps I misinterpreted your post then, I apologise for that. I may have been hasty in my reply πŸ™‚ I agree that we must keep the ideals of open source and free software alive. I’d be interested to know what you mean by the trends on I might have missed them. Are people’s views changing?

    My attitude towards MS is not changed by one action. They have a hell of a lot more to do to atone for their wrongs. Like you I don’t see Baldmer leaving any time soon. There are many good people at the company but with top management like that, it’s got to be hard. The people responsible for development and open sourcing certain things must be fighting against the system. I hope they can succeed in future

  8. @illumin8 – Oh and I forgot to say, thanks for your good wishes, I appreciate them. I wish you success and happiness in future too, honestly. Maybe, just maybe, one day we’ll be able to look back and laugh at a time when Windows had a 90% market share. I sincerely hope so πŸ˜‰

  9. I think this is great news for the pro-mono people.
    I still don’t trust Microsoft, but this is a step forward.
    Note however what the promise applies to:
    “Q: What if I don’t implement the entire specification? Will I still get the protections under the CP?

    A: The CP applies only if the implementation conforms fully to required portions of the specification. Partial implementations are not covered.

    This of course, is nothing like the GPLv3 patent protection terms, where you can modify and practice your freedoms while not necessarily conform to a standard while still receiving patent protection.

    • @has – Oh yeah, this is not close to the GPLv3, I certainly wouldn’t want to give that impression. This promise also doesn’t cover some sections of .NET as I pointed out. It seems from all the different sources I’ve read though that most of the popular applications like Tomboy, Banshee, F-Spot are covered. I don’t think all the problems with Mono will go immediately but this is a step in the right direction.

  10. Thanks for your graciousness.

    After the Floss weekly interview with Tim O’reilly,
    (net casts you…something something from people something something)

    I saw a notable spike in posts using his idea “pragmatic not religious”, which I think was taken out of context. I believe Tim O’Rielly was refering to the atmosphere of innovation rather than usage choice. Innovation comes from need, and opportunity and is therefore pragmatic in nature,rather than steming from conviction. But the implementation and how that innovation is made available is where the ideal applies.

    I noticed that people were using this catchphrase as an excuse to make consumer decisions based on pragmatism rather than idealism. While i generally understand this ( i have flash on my box) if this out of context idea takes root as a community truth, it has the potential to destroy the very atmosphere of conviction that made much of FOSS grow in use and recognition.

    I can understand TEMPORARILY making compromise for need of function, while maintaining core convictions but if this pragmatic idea starts allowing core operations to be written in non open code, then we might as well just tell the proprietary world “we give up..please take my money and threaten my mom”.

  11. @illumin8 – I agree with your sentiment completely. I’ve never heard that phrase as I don’t listen to TWiT. I do have FLOSS Weekly in my Gpodder list but somehow I never get round to listening to it. Tim O’Reilly has a strange relationship with Free Software. It sounds as though people are just using this phrase as an excuse to do what they wanted to do anyway. We need to ensure we protect the freedoms we have worked hard to establish, and improve on them wherever possible. The sad truth is that most people will only take the path of least resistance. It’s our duty to try and show them why these issues matter, without preaching or being paranoid. The more you treat Free Software like a religion the more people will just turn off. I wonder if perhaps this is what O’Reilly meant. I’ll have to listen to the show now and see. Thanks for the iniformation

  12. I think that Free Software might be a religion. We make some unprovable assumptions. We stick together extremely closely. I have never had to wait more than 24 hours on a help forum for help. We feel persecuted at work when we talk about alternative operating systems. The developers of the operating systems that are most dedicated to the GNU philosophy provide the best technical support. Even Richard Stallman has responded to my emails. We are unable to understand why anyone would use proprietary operating systems.

    We all know how to obtain free unauthorized copies of any proprietary application. Yet, we still choose to use only liberated software.

    • @Jon Yes that’s true. I could easily use cracked versions of all kinds of proprietary software like some people I know, but I choose not to. What I mean by Free Software religion as a downside is the fundamentalism you sometimes see. I would like people to use more Free Software and I am happy to help them with that, but I don’t push it in people’s faces or rant at them. This only turns them away. As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. I promote Free Software in every way I can but I don’t want people to think “oh god here comes that bloke who’s just going to rant at us about freedom again… let’s get away quick”. They know my views and I don’t need to go on about it, they have to make up their own minds. If they want help they will ask me πŸ™‚

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