Stallman warns of Mono 'risk'

Stallman warns of Mono 'risk'

Summary: The GNU project founder has urged developers to drop use of the open-source toolset, saying it could expose their work to legal action from Microsoft

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GNU project founder Richard Stallman has called on developers to pull back from Mono, arguing that increasing use of the open-source toolset could prompt legal action by Microsoft.

Mono is a .Net-compatible set of tools designed to allow applications based on Microsoft's C# programming language to run on platforms including Linux, BSD, Unix, Mac OS X and Solaris. A number of popular open-source applications, such as the note application Tomboy and the photo manager F-Spot, depend on Mono to run. As a result, Linux distributions such as Debian have said they are considering including Mono in the operating system's default install.

But this is a "risky direction", Stallman wrote in an article published by the Free Software Foundation on Friday.

"It is dangerous to depend on C#, so we need to discourage its use," he wrote. "The danger is that Microsoft is probably planning to force all free C# implementations underground someday using software patents. This is a serious danger, and only fools would ignore it until the day it actually happens. We need to take precautions now to protect ourselves from this future danger."

Stallman said writing and using applications that depend on C# is "a gratuitous risk", and called on developers to write alternative applications that do not depend on C#.

"We should systematically arrange to depend on the free C# implementations as little as possible," he wrote.

Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Stallman's article is part of an ongoing controversy around Mono, an open-source project sponsored by Novell. Some, such as Stallman, have argued that Mono presents a legal risk for the open-source community, while others have downplayed this risk.

Mono project founder Miguel de Icaza said in a 2006 blog post that developers intended to continue following policies designed to minimise the risk of any legal threat from Microsoft.

For example, the Mono project includes a Microsoft compatibility stack that implements proprietary Microsoft technologies such as ADO.Net, ASP.Net and Windows.Forms, but this code is kept separate from the main Mono stack, de Icaza said.

"We will... continue to keep the Microsoft and Mono stacks separated, as there is no need to add dependencies between them," de Icaza wrote.

Stallman said that his Friday article was inspired by the possibility that the popular Debian Linux distribution might include Mono by default. Debian developers have said in recent weeks that the distribution may include Mono by default simply because it is necessary for certain high-quality applications, such as Tomboy and F-Spot.

"As long as Tomboy and F-Spot are best-of-breed, they should be included — and with that, whichever libraries they happen to use," wrote Debian developer Jo Shields in a blog post earlier this month. "Mono is not a threat."

Topics: Apps, Software Development

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  • Stallman warns of Mono 'risk'

    Best to heed this advice. Microsoft is like a cornered rat, and does have sharp teeth. They haven't given up on their goal to destroy Linux, and since their products can't compete on level ground they will attack when the enemies back is turned.
    ator1940
  • What he said ..

    The thing that bothers me is why they even wrote this tool in the first place. It bothered me when I first heard it announced. It bothered me when I realised people were actually using it and it still bothers me today. It's seemed obvious to me that it had two ways to go. It was either going to languish unused for a year or two and die, or it was going to be taken up and used and eventually, when the time was right for Microsoft to act, they would do so with their usual brutality. Then many many years later it would be proved that their actions were unlawful, they would be fined a 17 digit number, and would tie the court up in legal pin dancing for the next 50 years. Eventually, they would settle with the estate of the author's great grand children and everyone's happy.
    Andrew Meredith
  • To be Paranoid or NOT Paranoid?

    I think he's most concerned with dilution of the base of experienced programmers available to work on GNU projects. Other than that, he might be paranoid.

    Maybe I missed something in all the public BS flying back and forth a while back but I thought that Mono was at the very least tacitly endorsed by MS. It would be an incredibly idiotic PR thing to do for MS to sue the guys that are attempting to make the dotNet CLR/Mono the dominate API for all platforms not just Windows.

    Mono is basically the only thing that will allow MS to compete with Java as the "runs on everything" software product. C# is the tip of the iceberg. The dotNet CLR is about as "generic" as Microsoft gets. Visual C++/C, Visual Basic, J#, F# and who knows what else all can be run on the CLR. It costs them absolutely nothing but patience for a guaranteed return.

    Assuming the Mono programmers "reverse" engineer the entire CLR, the methods, properties etc. programs created by Microsoft programmers as well as FOSS programmers will run on Windows, Linux and other open source OS. FOSS programmers could make money re-compiling their code under Visual Studio and selling the resultant software to Windows users. And on top of that it will NOT be covered by the GPL. That might actually be what Stallman is paranoid about.
    Xwindowsjunkie-e92c6
  • Paranoid

    Paranoid is when they're not doing what you think they're doing and you still think they are.

    The thought that MS would allow their rivals to spend time, effort and money running down a track of their making and then pull the rug in a particularly vicious and unprincipled manner further on down, is not paranoia, it is merely observation of repeated events in history and extrapolation into the future.
    Andrew Meredith
  • Its a Choice not a Chicken.

    I guess the point is that every programmer that works on Mono or any Open Source project is doing it by choice. Heck even the programmers working for Microsoft have made a choice.

    The issue I see is that Stallman sees evil in everything done by every company that sells software, especially Microsoft. (This is at least what it seems whenever he pops up on the scene. I tend to be somewhat more optimistic. I view MS as not necessarily the Evil Empire, but certainly the Callous, Greedy and Uncaring Empire, maybe 2 giant steps below Evil.

    Personally I believe that software is a service just like being a translator, a writer or an editor. Writing software is telling the machine what you want it to do, precisely. I could see having a copyright that would cover whatever creative content was in the comment notes or documentation. I don't see that a patent should be allowed.

    If I write music, its copyrighted, not patented. If I write comment notes in the software, then that could be copyrighted not the instructions themselves. There might be a number of ways to do the same function, a patent covers a function and in most cases in general language so that it can cover more territory. The problem is that to do any number of functions in any programming language, everybody ends up using the most efficient way, if they are good programmer's! That almost guarantees that everybody will write the code in the same fashion, sequence or using similar constructs.

    A patent on software is like having the rights to tell people that they can't use English any more without paying Her Majesty's Government a royalty check every time they do. (And you thought the Boston Tea Party and Bunker Hill was rowdy!)

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that paranoia is an idiotic means to un-involve or motivate people, especially programmers. I admire his zeal but worrying about something that MIGHT happen is a "Chicken Little" waiting to hatch.
    Xwindowsjunkie-e92c6
  • What a lot of crap. Even though Microsoft's Visual Studio Express does not work with Mono for Android, it is something Microsoft distributes for free, C# included! Nothing says C# should be used to develop for the MS platform only. What a dumb remark.
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