Is Mono dead? Is Novell dying?

Attachmate has fired at least some of Novell's Mono, the open-source implementation of Windows' .NET, team. It appears at least 800 employees have been let go in total. Is this the end of Mono? Of Novell?
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Well, that didn't take long. I had thought that after Attachmate bought Novell it would be keeping its open-source teams working. Indeed, Attachmate CEO Jeff Hawn had told me that, "Business will operate as usual." While Attachmate will be keeping SUSE Linux as a spin-off company, Mono, the open-source implementation of Windows' .NET, is being shut down and there have been hundreds of additional Novell layoffs. So much for business as usual.

In a statement, Hawn told me, "We have re-established Nuremburg [Germany] as the headquarters of our SUSE business unit and the prioritization and resourcing of certain development efforts--including Mono--will now be determined by the business unit leaders there. This change led to the release of some US based employees today. As previously stated, all technology road-maps remain intact with resources being added to those in a manner commensurate with customer demand."

At this time, I do not know what other development efforts are being put on the back-burner. Nor, do I know if Miguel de Icaza, the founder and driving engine of Mono, has been let go. I've send several requests for comments to him, but I haven't received a reply. De Icaza, who is usually very outspoken, has also not tweeted nor written on his blogs about the fate of Mono and his own future with Novell. My understanding is that all of the Mono team, approximately 30-individuals, have been let go.

The Salt Lake City KSL television station reports that, "Novell Inc. laid off hundreds of employees Monday from its Provo office, just days after the company was sold, according to employees." Under Attachmate's rule, Provo was to be Novell's headquarters.

The KSL Novell source said, "800 people lost their jobs company-wide, with most of those in Provo." The sales force, human resources, corporate operations and the legal department were particularly hard hit. Even before this, Novell's top brass had been shown the door. If the 800 number is correct, that would be about 25% of the company's worldwide workforce or 50% of its U.S. workers.

These firings at a lower-level though came as a shock to the Novell staff. The source continued that in the aftermath of the Novell sale, "We all expected something. Nobody expected what we got." He concluded that Attachmate/Novell plans to drop all but four of its product lines.

Mono, since its implementation of a proprietary Microsoft software stack and C# language, has always had its enemies in open-source circles. Frankly, I didn't like some of .NET's licensing ; I wasn't comfortable with how close it brought open-source programming to Microsoft; and, having nothing to with software development politics or licensing, I didn't like that Mono would forever be trying to catch up with its proprietary big-brother .NET.

On the other hand, there have been several great programs written in Mono. As far as I'm concerned, Banshee is the best open-source media player out there. I'm not the only one to think that since Canonical decided to make Banshee its new default media player in Ubuntu 11.04.

But, without its corporate backer, what happens now to Mono? I really hadn't expected this. Microsoft sponsored Attachmate's purchase of Novell. I had presumed they'd be happy to see Mono keep going. I was wrong.

While some people are happy about Mono's demise and the stormy weather ahead for Novell, other open-source figures aren't so sure that the end of Mono is really a good thing. Bradley M. Kuhn, Executive Directory and President of the Software Freedom Conservancy, wrote, that while "I have been critical of Mono … Mono should exist, for at least one important reason: some developers write lots and lots of new code on Microsoft systems in C#. If those developers decide they want to abandon Microsoft platforms tomorrow and switch to GNU/Linux, we don't want them to change their minds and decide to stay with Microsoft merely because GNU/Linux lacks a C# implementation."

But will Mono continue? I'm sure it will in one form or another. Open-source software, no matter how encumbered it may be with possible copyright or patent problems, is hard to kill.

Will it continue to be an important software development environment is another question entirely. I fear the answer is no. While some programs, such as Banshee and the F-Spot photo manager, will continue on, it's hard for me to see developers choosing to start significant new projects in Mono.

As for Novell? Well, I'm just glad its founder, the brilliant and cantankerous Ray Noorda is no longer to see the end of his company. It would have broken his heart.

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