At first, the rumors seemed irresistible. Miguel de Icaza, the creator of Mono, the GNU/Linux implementation of .NET, was saying what free software critics have been saying for years: the spread of .NET has been handicapped by Microsoft’s restrictive patent policies.
Then, mysteriously, the SD Times story in which de Icaza is quoted disappeared from the Internet, preserved only in Google’s cache. After years of supporting .NET, de Icaza himself now seems the victim of the conspiracy to ensure that anti-.NET or anti-Mono stories are censored — or, just as likely, the victim of his own rashness.
The trouble is, none of this story is true. Or, rather, to be exact, the article has not disappeared, and de Icaza’s comments are accurate, but have been taken so wildly out of context that their intent has been lost.
The Rumor Mill Grinds Coarsely
De Icaza’s comments appeared in an article on SD Times by David Worthington. In the article, de Icaza is quoted as saying, “Microsoft has shot the .NET ecosystem in the foot because of the constant threat of patent infringement that they have cast on the ecosystem. Unlike the Java world that is blossoming with dozens of vibrant Java Virtual Machine implementations, the .NET world has suffered by this meme spread by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer that they would come after people that do not license patents from them.”
The alleged disappearance of the article seems to have been first mentioned on Jason Melton’s blog under the title of “The Disappearing Article Mystery.” Finding that the article had apparently been removed and was available only in Google’s cache, Melton asked two questions: “Why is this article no longer up on SD Times? Are all the quotes attributed to Mr. de Icaza in the article genuine?” A free software advocate, Melton otherwise made no comment beyond suggesting that, if the quotes were genuine, “I have more to say about some of them!”
This story was picked up in an article on ITWire by Sam Varghese, who also summarized the original article.
Even more coverage of the mystery was offered by Boycott Novell’s Roy Schestowitz. After reporting on Worthington’s article more or less accurately, Schestowitz posted a second article that made the unsubstantiated claim that Worthington’s article published “rather damning material about Mono” and was removed in an effort to hide it after Boycott Novell’s first article.
In addition, by appending a link to more recent comments that de Icaza has made in support of Mono, Schestowitz seems to be implying that de Icaza has been caught making indiscreet remarks.
Subsequently, the story was picked up by Slashdot, where many commenters speculated that de Icaza had switched his opinion about his life’s work and was now verging on agreement with the many in free software who oppose his work on Mono and his close connections with Microsoft.
What Really Happened
The truth is less dramatic than any of the circulating rumors and guesses.
To start with, nothing has happened to Worthington’s article. When contacted, Worthington explained that the article is written in two parts, which originally ran separately. The two parts were then reposted as a single article, which remains available online under the title, “Even with its success, .NET causes some consternation,” with the controversial section appearing toward the end.
A Google search also reveals that the seemingly lost article is available in its entirety on a site called Slated.
“It didn’t go off the web.” Worthington says. “It’s also in print, in about 50,000 copies.”
In other words, there’s no mystery, and no conspiracy to hide anti-.NET statements.
Moreover, when asked if de Icaza had reversed his stance, Worthington says, “That’s not my opinion. I think he’s being very pragmatic. He obviously likes the technical merits of .NET, and has a working relation with Microsoft that’s pretty strong. Then he thinks that there are some things that are not so amazing about it when it comes to being cross-platform.”
This opinion is confirmed by de Icaza himself, who posted a blog article that puts his quotes in article in the context of the original email in which he made them.
De Icaza begins the original email by stating, “Well, I am a bit of a fan of large portions of .NET, so I might not be entirely objective. You might want to also get some feedback from a sworn enemy of Microsoft, but you should get at least the statements from a sworn enemy that has tried .NET, as opposed to most people that have strong opinions but have never used it.”
In other words, de Icaza has not changed his opinions. As he makes clear, he is talking from the viewpoint of a supporter — a critical one, but a supporter all the same, and one who is concerned that the opinions about .NET that Worthington gathers are informed ones.
“I was thinking what had gone wrong in the last eight or ten years,” de Icaza told me in a brief interview. “And I think that Microsoft really missed a big opportunity. .NET would be in a lot more places if there had been no problems with Mono.”
De Icaza confirms that nothing has changed for him when he concludes his blog by saying, “I am still a fan of .NET, and we are going to continue working to bring Mono everywhere where we think we could improve developer’s experience . . . . Just like everyone that complains about Sun’s tight control over the Java development process, I have my own regarding Microsoft’s development process for .NET. But that is just business as usual. The best C# and .NET days are ahead of us. ”
The rumors? De Icaza dismisses them as “a storm in a teacup.”
The only part of the rumors that is even remotely true is that, all things considered, de Icaza would have preferred that his comments had been made in a different context. He tells me that he does not blame Worthington, whose purpose was to write about the history of Mono with a variety of viewpoints. According to de Icaza, Worthington approached him in the hopes of more substantial comments than were likely to be forthcoming from Microsoft’s public relations.
Still, “Basically, I’m trying to get Microsoft to open source more stuff. I’d rather have had a private session than a public lambasting, which this became,” de Icaza admits.” His concern is that Mono and .NET might have both been better served if he had made his comments more diplomatically. For de Icaza, the validity of his comments is apparently not in question — just their timing and method of delivery.
Move Along — Nothing to See Here
These rumors could have been avoided had anyone thought to contact the people involved. Instead, the transmitters of the rumors chose to rely on imagination and prejudice instead. The idea that de Icaza had either recanted his views or else had caused trouble for himself by speaking too freely to a journalist was apparently too appealing for many to resist.
What nobody seems to have considered is that, regardless of your opinion of de Icaza, Mono, or .NET, the free and open source software (FOSS) community is poorly served by such rumors.
Thanks to the Internet and its own cohesion, the FOSS community excels at communication. However, in this instance, that ability was used irresponsibly, and a lot of people’s time was wasted by disinformation.
ALSO SEE: Let’s Settle the Mono Debate