Let's Settle the Mono Debate: Page 2

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The same attitude is sometimes shown by Miguel de Izaca, the founder of Mono and GNOME, when he wrote recently on his Facebook status in response to Richard M. Stallman releasing a statement cautioning against using the C# platform, "on RMS and Mono, let me just paraphrase Confucius and say '20 million .NET developers don't give a shit.'"

Similarly, the Technical Board of Canonical, Ubuntu's commercial arm, chooses to emphasize software quality in its defense of Mono. Recently, it announced that, "In general, we will ship the best available free software applications."

Only secondarily do those who support Mono consider the central issue of potential software patents. When they do raise it, they are frequently dismissive. If patents do become an issue, Shields suggests, Mono will simply find a way around them -- or, in the worst case scenario, in which Mono becomes unusable, port any Mono-based applications to another language, just as Tomboy was recently ported to C++ as Gnote.

Other Mono supporters show even less concern. For instance, at Canonical, the argument made by the Technical Board is that shipping Mono is not "a major risk, as should be evident from the fact that it has shipped in Ubuntu main [repository] since 5.10 and in the default desktop since 6.10" -- that is, for several years."

Considering that most Mono supporters simply want to get on with their work, such positions are understandable.

Nor are accusations -- often irrational ones -- easy to endure, especially from people not involved in your work. That must be especially true for de Izaca, who seemed a perfectly decent person the few times I talked to him on the phone, but who endures constant misquoting and outright demonization. In such cases, the Pro-Mono side is simply responding in kind.

All the same, what pro-Mono supporters consistently overlook is that the software development or quality, the roles of people raising objections, or personal abuse are not the issue.

The issue is the potential legal problems, and neither thinking you can work around them, or that, because a violation has not been filed yet, it never will be, really addresses the possible consequences.

In a patent violation case, finding a workaround does not necessarily mean that you can escape legal penalties. Moreover, while the Mono project itself might survive a legal battle, individual companies like Canonical might not, for the simple reason that patent cases tend to be expensive.

In other words, what is missing from the pro-Mono side is any serious effort to assess the legal threat.

The Anti-Mono Arguments

When reading the case against Mono, the biggest challenge for outsiders is not to judge it by the rhetoric in which it is expressed. A few people, most recently Richard Stallman, have explained relatively calmly why including Mono in a distribution is risky, but, too often, comments that concern Mono are made with excessive passion at best.

At its worse, the case is made with rudeness, a disregard for logic, and a mania that resembles paranoia and conspiracy theory. You can see much of this tone in the initial post that started the discussion in the Ubuntu mail forum.

"I never thought I'd live to see the day where [Canonical] would side with the asshole trolls such as the MONO camp," the post declares. "I'm disgusted and you guys should be ashamed. I hope you get rid of MONO. Only then can your reputations be restored."

During the rest of the thread, the poster went on to become so out of control with his accusations that Boycott Novell, whose articles the poster often quoted, felt obliged to distance itself.

Even when the Anti-Mono side's rhetoric is calmer, a good deal of bias is obvious. The fact that Mono has origins in a language originally developed by Microsoft is by itself enough to raise suspicion. Given Microsoft's frequent anti-competitive tactics, many Anti-Mono supporters have no trouble believing that the corporation could be playing a long-term game to infiltrate then destroy free software.

Add that Mono's main sponsor is Novell, a company that signed an infamous agreement with Microsoft, and the bias becomes even stronger.

For example, when journalist Sam Varghese attempted to find out the terms under which a license could be requested, and received no response, his conclusion was that the offer was a sham. A simpler explanation would have been that, as an individual, his query carried little or no weight.

None of this does anything to help the Anti-Mono side. Only when you return to the basic credo of free software do you realize that it may be right, but for the wrong reason.

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Tags: Linux, Microsoft, Novell, Mono

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