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Is Linux Suffering From Mono?

Is Linux Suffering From Mono?

Is Mono an affliction that should be eradicated or a choice that should be respected? Does its inclusion in a distro reek of obeisance to Microsoft, or should the threat of a Microsoft claim to "ownership" be considered irrelevant to true FOSS believers? The debate over Mono continues to touch some raw nerves.

By Katherine Noyes
06/22/09 4:00 AM PT

In the general population, "Mono" may be best known for infecting teenagers with the "kissing disease." On the Linux blogs, it's recently caused a different kind of anguish as geeks far and wide have debated whether it's infected Linux too.

It's a different Mono, of course, but its effects -- or, at least, the discussion of them -- have been no less agonizing.

It all started earlier this month when Linux Canuck posted an explicit description of why he -- or she (it's not clear from the "About Me" section) -- dislikes Mono (referring to the .Net development framework now) and is consequently considering abandoning Ubuntu.

"The bone of contention for me is Mono," Linux Canuck wrote. "I remove it. I don't like it. I refuse to use it. It rubs me the wrong way. Anything that starts with Microsoft and goes via the sellout, Novell, cannot be good."

An Open Invitation

Close to 90 comments followed there before the topic got picked up on Linux Today, generating another 50 or so more.

That, in turn, inspired Carla Schroder to post an open invitation to Mono proponents to "set the record straight," as she put it.

"As discussions tend to be fractured, wandering, and emotional, I think that a calm presentation of why Mono is desirable, why it is not a threat, and why it should be included in Ubuntu by default would be beneficial," Schroder explained.

'You Are Not Even-Handed'

Another 50 or so comments followed there before one Jo Shields chose to respond to Schroder's challenge. Shields first posted his reply on Linux Today -- where it elicited some 40 comments -- and then on his own blog, where nearly 200 more followed.

"Your initial post makes it clear that you are not even-handed on this topic," Shields wrote, referring to Schroder's words in her open invitation.

"Free Software is a meritocracy -- those who do things earn respect," he asserted. "Until the anti-Mono crowd actually make a contribution to Free Software, they will continue to be treated as cranks -- and their questions left unanswered."

The thundering hooves of the comment stampede could be heard almost before Shields' proverbial ink was dry.

'The Die-Hard FLOSS Zealot Bull'

"Someone else who sees the die hard FLOSS zealot bull for what it is," wrote Jason Knight in the comments on Shields' site. "So many of them throw around the word freedom without understanding what freedom is -- they're all for freedom so long as you don't disagree with them...

"News flash, freedom is about the ability to CHOOSE, and if I CHOOSE to use an open system based on a closed one, or GOD FORBID a closed one, that's my choice," Knight added.

"Great article, these things had to be said!" wrote Chris on Linux Today. "This whole debate cannot be left to hotheads and paranoiacs."

'Exceedingly Pissed Off'

On the other hand: "I was exceedingly pissed off by" Shields' pro-Mono plea, wrote Radu-Cristian Fotescu on Planete Beranger. "I can't comment on it, as I don't want to read it again. It hurts my guts."

Similarly: "I think that Linux users should shun Mono as far as possible," chimed in softwarejanitor on LXer. "There is no reason why anyone should consider it if they aren't coming from the MS world."

Indeed, the comments just kept on coming. Overwhelmed by the passion and -- dare we say it -- bitterness evident in the debate, we here at LinuxInsider had no choice but to seek out some more insight.

'Mono Gives M$ More Power'

"We do not need Mono or anything else connected to that other OS," blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider via email. "Developers love GNU/Linux, which is why they are migrating to it in droves."

GNU/Linux was "designed and created by developers from all over the planet and over many decades, stemming from UNIX," Pogson explained. "There is nothing wrong with Mono except that it gives M$ more power over GNU/Linux. Any corporation that threatens litigation over software patents should be avoided like the plague."

Similarly, "What the Mono proponents are forgetting when they say they can just 'design around patents' is the possibility of a Rambus-style attack where the standard is written to require a patent," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider. "Until Microsoft makes a formal pledge not to enforce its patents against Mono, we should resist including it in our Linux distros."

Protesters 'Flat Out Fail'

On the other hand: "Mono is Free Software by even the Free Software Foundation's standards," Monochrome Mentality's Kevin Dean told LinuxInsider in an email message. "I understand the concern, but seriously question the commotion about this implementation of .NET."

The problem isn't the software but "the 'game' software exists in," Dean explained. "Most Free Software advocates believe that information or data can't be owned but should be rightfully shared. The problem is that those advocates subscribe to the same SYSTEM that by default makes things like Mono or .NET okay to restrict. They subscribe to the government-enforced system of copyright; the owner of an idea (the creator of it) somehow owns *all implementations* of that idea -- a monopoly on that idea, if you will."

In this regard, "I think the Free Software advocates protesting Mono and the Microsoft lawyers drooling over Mono's inclusion flat out fail," Dean asserted. "Ideas aren't property once let out of the originator's head. They're property of anybody who obtains that idea, restricted only by how fast that idea can spread itself."

'I'm Advocating Civil Disobedience'

If information is not owned, then "systems proclaiming the ownership of information should simply be ignored," Dean said. "Yes, I'm advocating civil disobedience. Just as the European Pirate Party encouraged civil disobedience, and then made that issue the forefront of their campaign efforts, so should Mono users."

Accordingly, "I strongly encourage every distro to adopt and make use of Mono," Dean said. "The number of applications that depend on it clearly demonstrate that it is a good tool.

"I also encourage every distro to stand strong in this decision, to contest the potential day where Microsoft sues and STILL include Mono, even if some court says, 'You may not do this'," he said. "We've seen this work with so-called 'non-free' formats like MP3 and encrypted DVDs (libdvdcss), and by simply refusing to cater to draconian restrictions, we've seen these technologies flourish and prosper."

There may be some in the Free Software movement who are uncomfortable with rejecting the idea that the author of software is its owner, Dean noted -- "the GNU project, for instance, might balk at the idea that they do NOT control how software they wrote is used by developers around the world," he said. "But consistency and ethical conduct are the price of freedom."


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