Mono Reborn?
Written by Mike James   
Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Miguel de Icaza and Nat Friedman have set up a new independent company, Xamarin, to give Mono a fighting chance.

The recent news that suggested that Attachmate wasn't interested in supporting development of the Mono framework has been proven correct. Leading Mono developer Miguel de Icaza has finally broken a long silence on the subject to reveal that he, together with Nat Friedman, has set up Xamarin - a new company to host the Mono project.

The action of Attachmate in sacking the Mono team doesn't seem to have been a happy affair. To quote Miguel de Icaza:

"We have been trying to spin Mono off from Novell for more than a year now. Everyone agreed that Mono would have a brighter future as an independent company, so a plan was prepared last year.

To make a long story short, the plan to spin off was not executed. Instead on Monday May 2nd, the Canadian and American teams were laid off; Europe, Brazil and Japan followed a few days later. These layoffs included all the MonoTouch and MonoDroid engineers and other key Mono developers. Although Attachmate allowed us to go home that day, we opted to provide technical support to our users until our last day at Novell, which was Friday last week."

The project has good prospects in that it offers C# and frameworks for Linux and .NET for iOS and Android. However none of the implementations have the feel of anything that is finished. Developers have to live within the confines of how much has been implemented. You can't simply take a .NET program and move it to Mono because there will be missing framework classes and facilities - the most notable being WPF. Similarly writing a .NET application for iOS or for Android requires a lot of learning and it has little relationship with building apps for Windows Phone 7.




Then there is the problem of Microsoft's patents and intellectual property that are used in Mono. Microsoft has claimed it won't push its claims but it is a worry for all Mono users that sometime in the future a "refinement" of its position could cause problems. Many open source supporters see Mono as a poisoned pill waiting to do damage to any project that adopts it. .

As well as working on the open source Mono and Moonlight (the Mono version of Silverlight) Xamarin plans to produce commercial products. The stated aims are:

  • Build a new commercial .NET offering for iOS
  • Build a new commercial .NET offering for Android
  • Continue to contribute, maintain and develop the open source Mono and Moonlight components.
  • Explore the Moonlight opportunities in the mobile space and the Mac appstore.

The two commercial projects would need to be a lot more developed for potential users to take them seriously so it is a commitment to a great deal of work. The final intention to explore "Moonlight in the mobile space and the Mac appstore" is an intriguing possibility. Silverlight has never become the great cross platform unifier that Microsoft claimed it would be and now Microsoft really doesn't seem to be interested in the idea. If anything they actively seem to want to restrict Silverlight even further to just Windows Phone 7. If Moonlight can become a cross platform browser add-in then it might be the step that triggers Microsoft's poison pill. It certainly wont be accepted by Apple with open arms as from their point of view it's just another Flash type add-in.

Of course it all comes down to funding. With enough cash the projects should get somewhere but Novell's support is going to be hard to replace. The blog claims that the company has secured some funding but also that they have some engineering contracts to work on - which suggests that they didn't get enough angel funding to just get on with the job. It sound a bit precarious and we can only hope that some brave white knight steps in and funds the project.

At the moment the Mono user community seems fully behind Miguel de Icaza and his new company. Many of the comments on his blog suggest that individuals would like to invest, money even! However, it isn't really the reaction of the converted that matters. How the bulk of the .NET community react is the key and in many ways it is Microsoft's response, if any, that will set the tone.

If you want to help then visit the Xamarin site and at least take the user survey and register for news of beta releases.

More information:

Miguel de Icaza's blog

Xamarin website

Related news:

Mono in trouble?

Mono for Android V1.0 now shipping

Mono 2.10 released with reservations



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