.Net's open to change

A leading open source developer, Miguel de Icaza, said he will launch an open source project to create a platform-neutral version of the upcoming Microsoft .Net development environment.

A leading open source developer, Miguel de Icaza, said he will launch an open source project to create a platform-neutral version of the upcoming Microsoft .Net development environment

The move indicates early support for the .Net architecture from an unexpected source. And if de Icaza, the lead developer of the Linux/ Gnome user interface, wins many followers, Microsoft could find itself commanding the attention of the highly independent open source code development community. In its recent moves, it has been signaling that it wants that position — to both expand its development community and better compete with Sun Microsystems' Java software development platform.

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Although an open source competitor might mean less control over its development platform, Microsoft appears willing to play that card while maintaining strict control over e-commerce-enabling server technologies, such as its user identification Passport system, said Tim O'Reilly, a big open source proponent and president of O'Reilly & Associates, a computer book publisher.

Microsoft declined to say if it would support or oppose a competing, open source development environment that was based on .Net compatibility. In the past, David Stutz, Microsoft's general program manager for Shared Source Common Language Infrastructure, said the company expected developers to use Microsoft source code to build prototypes and to come to Microsoft for a license if they planned commercial distribution.

De Icaza said he won't need a license, because Microsoft has submitted much of .Net to the international standards bodies, so the basic .Net blueprint is freely available. He said he won't use any Microsoft code.

De Icaza's competing development platform, the Mono System, would vie with .Net and also make it clear that .Net is not a Windows-only platform, a message that Microsoft has not conveyed successfully. Mono will be useful for developing applications for Linux and other platforms, including Windows, de Icaza said.

Microsoft's .Net architecture is an emerging platform for developing e-commerce and Web applications that easily operate with one another. Like Java, it includes an intermediate byte code layer, which lets one app run on different target machines. It includes the C Sharp language, which is designed to have Java's ease of programmer use.

De Icaza said Micro soft .Net outstrips Java in one respect: Developers using .Net may use various languages — C, C++, C Sharp or Visual Basic — and have the components they develop work with other developers' components using other .Net-based languages.

De Icaza heads the Gnu Network Object Model Environment — or the Gnome Project — that has provided a graphical user interface to the Linux open source code operating system. He said he was "trying to put together a development platform like .Net but we [the Gnome Project] never did it." While planning a Gnome upgrade, he realized Microsoft .Net was what he wanted to create — a multi language development environment.

"I fell in love with the .Net platform. I asked myself, 'Why not adopt the .Net infrastructure and build on top of it?' " De Icaza, who founded and is chief technology officer at Ximian, a commercial company based on Gnome, said he can do so without impinging on Microsoft's proprietary code by developing a look-alike, open source platform.

He will announce Ximian's launch of such a project — Mono — at the Open Source Convention July 23.

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