Linux

Will Microsoft threaten open source C# implementations?

Richard Stallman warned the Linux community that it should remove any free implementation of the C# language for fear of patent backlash from Microsoft. Is he getting soft in his later years or does he have a point? Jack Wallen tackles this issue with some possible solutions and some questions for the open source community.

Recently RMS (Richard M Stallman) came out of his man-cave to voice his concern over Debian's inclusion of Mono in its latest release. (Read the article here.) The gist of what RMS is saying is that the Linux community needs to be concerned because including this free implementation of the C# language could have a backlash when Microsoft forces their hand with C# patents. Microsoft, after all, did create the C# language for the .NET framework. And we all know that when MS creates something they seem to own it and everything surrounding it. This, naturally, leads me to wonder...how can the Linux developer community react to this possible conclusion?

Let's think about this with respect to languages and operating systems. The key period I want to point out is 1969-1973. During that period the C language was created at the Bell labs where, at the same time, UNIX was being developed. These two went hand in hand. And then, in 1983, Bjarne Stroustrup developed C++ for the UNIX operating system. Many thousands of Windows applications today are still written with the help of either C or C++. Note that Microsoft had nothing to do with the development of either one of these languages. I think you can see where I am going here.

We can look even earlier,1964 to be exact, at the BASIC language. This was created by John George Kemeny and Thomas Eugene Kutz at Dartmouth University. This language would eventually become part of Microsoft's Visual Basic language of which 59% of all .NET developers use as their only language.

Microsoft uses, borrows, steals, and then patents. Much of everything they have is based on something else. But now one of the loudest mouths for the open source software is saying that Linux should avoid including a language that is based on something Microsoft might patent? This doesn't make sense to me. But ultimately what doesn't make sense to me is that a judge would award a patent to Microsoft for a language that could not have been created had it not been for other languages that they, in turned, borrowed from. But if, ultimately, a judge does grant this patent, then why shouldn't the open source community, in turn, pull the same stunt? Why not patent Perl? It was created for UNIX and is open source after all. Or what about PHP? Again...open source.

But there is a grain of wisdom to what RMS is saying. The reason Mono is being included with Debian is because of Tomboy. What is Tomboy? A simple note-taking application used in the GNOME desktop. Here's a thought - someone come up with another simple note-taking application so the Linux community can avoid this. Sure that would work, but it avoids the bigger problem. Mono is an open source set of .NET-compatible tools. If Linux wants to continue to communicate with Windows, .NET-compatible tools are going to be necessary...

Ah, there's the key to this issue. Can't you see it? Microsoft finally playing their hand to keep Linux from communicating with Windows? Could it be they are back to their tactics of old? When Linux makes a stride towards seamless heterogeneous environments, Microsoft breaks the flow of communications.

There has been plenty of talk, since the creation of Mono, that Microsoft wants to destroy the Mono project through patents. Mono is developed by Novell. In 2006 Novell and Microsoft announced an agreement that sent the Linux community reeling. This agreement extended to Mono and any implementation of Mono in a Novell environment and/or Novell customer. Although the vast majority of the Linux community complained about this agreement, I have a feeling it was the only way Novell could continue to work on the Mono project and keep Microsoft from destroying it.

If Microsoft is threatening patents against .NET, it would seem to me that the Novell/Microsoft relationship didn't really work out all that well. And now Microsoft is back to their old tricks. And what should the Linux and open source community do about this? Should another deal with Microsoft be made? Is the seamless communication between Linux and Windows worth making a deal with a partner that is only going to turn around and stab you in the back again and again and again?

This whole issue really brings me to one question though: Why doesn't Microsoft want to create an environment where everyone wins? Why wouldn't they want to help the open source community who has helped them out so much over the years. Without the help of BASIC, C, C++, Perl, and so many more languages, Microsoft would be nowhere. Microsoft has been called many names over the years. But with what RMS is claiming they might do, I have to add the title of "Parasite" to the long list of names attached to the company out of Redmond. They use and use and rarely, if truly, give back.

What do you think? What should Linux and the open source community do with this proclamation of Richard Stallman? Should they cave and remove Mono? Or is there another solution? Give us your thoughts.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

28 comments
Justin James
Justin James

... where they promise not to sue over it. J.Ja

endlesslove7
endlesslove7

First of all, .NET is a copy-cat of Java. So if some developers become so excited to program something like Tomboy in C# rather than Java, then there must be a reason. Then this Tomboy is a note-taking tool for Gnome Desktop. This kind of note-taking tools for Gnome are already available in Gnome and I don't know why Tomboy has to exist in the first place, and be part of Gnome. Hmmm... I smell something fishy. There must be a reason behind this things. Then Debian and Ubuntu requires Mono because of Gnome. Hmmm... Seems a very valid reason for Mono to enter the GNU/Linux world. Then Debian is a project from just another "organization" who accepts big donations from different companies, making Debian susceptible to political maneuvering especially when Microsoft is behind all this Mono thing! Good luck, Debian! may your eyes see and stop betraying the Gnu/Linux community.

zeke123
zeke123

Definition of stupidity is seeing something played out 100 times in a certain way and hoping that the 101st will somehow turn out be different. People/organizations should be judged by their actions and Redmond's actions the past 2-3 decades are very well documented. I still havent heard a single word from ANY heads of MS that even hints at something having changed. (please dont mention those low level managers they change every year or so like Bill Milf, Sam Ramji and so on who tell us what we want to hear. They dont sign the checks or make decisions). All I know is that as a Red Hat server user, Microsoft claims that I OWE THEM MONEY because Linux has stolen their IP: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5B0GTYfPoMo Everything else is meaningless if you dont address this big elephant in the room that many pretend is not there.. (Well, except that part where Steve0 reminds us that Novell has paid the patent extortion and they have the LEGAL Linux.) Not only am I threathened as a Red Hat user but as a 'non-compensated individual hobbyist developer' who also gets paid as a developer, I am not protected by the Novell deal so once again... threathened. The SFLC (Bradley Kuhn wrote about it) have joined the FSF on this and I think we can safely say that Eben Moglen and company have a better grasp on these things than most developers. Mono as an compatibility layer to run or port Windows applications is acceptable like Wine or even apps like Skype.. What most have problems wtih is writing apps that are solely meant for Linux in C#/Mono since its not like Mono/C# offers features never before available on X11 platforms. Qt, GnuStep, and Python are here and well supported. No one can figure out why GNOME opted to depend on a whole software stack just for a single app.(well, we know why: de Icaza is VP at Novell, founder of Gnome and leader of Mono) And this is not a 'big business bad' reaction. Ive been in tech since IBM was the Evil Empire and now i work on a FLOSS project where there are paid IBM employees. Companies like Intel and Nokia who 4-5 years ago (ah hell, even two years ago) werent exactly the biggest free software supporters have proven to be exceptionally worthy contributors the past 18 months. As long as you want to join our party and play by our rules (GPL and family) and share the toys with the others, then I have no problem with the IBM's of the world coming to our table. Until Nixon actually goes to China, everything about Microsoft is exactly where its always been, a convicted monopolists that plays dirty (the Comes vs Microsoft internal memoes show that all those things we thought they did... they did even worse) that fears Linux.

AlessandroBorges
AlessandroBorges

Mono is a rotten apple in the unix basket of techologies . Delete it !

Luis Colorado
Luis Colorado

I think this article is too paranoid, the plot too complex, and in general, too Machiavellic. Certainly, Microsoft could do something like that, but I don't think that they are that sophisticated. Should Mono be included in a Linux distribution? Well, why not? Would I use it? The only reason I can think of to use it would be to learn C#, but I would not bet the destiny of a company on Mono: it would be too risky, and there are more stable, mature, and predictable technologies out there that practically run anywhere.

Justin James
Justin James

C# is an ECMA standard. Therefore, there is *nothing* Microsoft can do to go after folks who want to implement it, other than put out new versions of it and not make them standards. Furthermore, I've talked to the folks who are running Mono. I got the feeling that Microsoft is actually quite happy with the existence of Mono. Finally, Microsoft is on their whole Silverlight kick, and part of that is that fact that it runs on Linux, which requires Mono. I think the majority of the people in the development community are aware of these simple facts. While there are lots of things to dislike about about the influx of C# on Linux, worrying about Microsoft patents is barking up the wrong tree. Once again, RMS has his head up the tailpipe of a school bus, and listening to him is a great way to get cranked up over nothing. J.Ja

chipppy
chipppy

I think people are forgetting a very important point. MS can only inforce anything once it a pantent has been granted and all appeals have been exorsted. this could take 10-15 years from when the initial pantent application is lodged. By then the world will have moved on and changed tremdously so dont fret just prepare the defense/appeal information, so that the group that will legally oppose MS can tie MS up in court for as long as is needed for the rest of the world to move onto C## (or something else).

Jaqui
Jaqui

1) The Mono [ sounds like a sexually transmitted disease to me ] Project is hosted on Novell's collaboration services last I heard. 2) The Novell and M.S. agreement about M.S. NOT going after open source projects for patent infringement. While I don't think Novell has, or had, the right to sign such an agreement for the entire open source community, they did do so, and M.S. would be in breach of contract if they go after ANY open source project, specially one associated with Novell. :D

tete_man
tete_man

What matters here is how to move the business forward. I think MS will not let go if it means good and very laudable revenue.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

How, I mean if they said you can't use C# anymore, you just decompile the IL into another language, C++, Ruby, Python... If they closed up MSIL, they would lose a huge business advantage. I'm not MS's biggest fan, but Stallman's blinkers have been very effective again.

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

They don't want to be in a world where everyone wins. Only one where they win, and everyone uses them. Microsoft doesn't understand the competition, and so tries to stifle it at every turn.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

There are similarities, they both use byte code intermediates, they are both OO, hardly a surprise it it? There are more than a few similarities to Delphi as well which is also not a surprise given Bill bought up Borland's entire Tools team. Given JVM's are as proprietry as the .net framework, you could have (and some did) made exactly the same argument for Sun's Java. If Tomboy is good enough for one it's good enough for the other. I use KDE myself, wouldn't touch Ubuntu unless you paid me and my debian based distro is chugging away quite happily wothout mono. Freely made choices on my part, not dictated by Stallman or Gates....

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Unfortunately absolutely no bearing on the discussion. Even if it were possibly for MS to patent C#, it does not matter, they can't patent C++ can they? All you do is decompile the IL into another language shazam no c#. They to want patent MSIL, big deal xor the codes it isn't MSIL any more. They want to patent byte code, best of luck with that? What's next Int, generics, closures.... None of it's new except the icon and the logo, there are way bigger issues than this to worry about.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

to change someone's mind. That was nothing like well reasoned. Consider my mind unchanged. That's you and Stallman, 0 for 2...

jlwallen
jlwallen

RMS is a problem for the open source community. the only thing is - he's the biggest mouth and people assume his opinion is the opinion of the open source community. i personally think RMS is just a patentaphobe (not a word i know) and anything there is a fear of a patent being applied for he assumes it will put a full stop on the breaks of the Linux train. that and it seems he wants to give a bad name to microsoft at all cost.

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

is this: What exactly does Linux/FLOSS do that infringes any patents that Microsoft holds? Vfat? drop it then. i mean you can't sue based on look and feel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Computer,_Inc._v._Microsoft_Corporation ) remember children, you can't sue someone for doing something you yourself got sued over. Floss doesn't break any laws in and of itself, and only specific projects can even be targetted by this. By definition, Linux is based soley off of Minix and unix, MS isn't even a god-father. Gnome and kde can claim "look and feel". Microsoft doesn't have a leg, not made of money, to stand on.

rmerchberger
rmerchberger

Quote: "M.S. would be in breach of contract" When has that ever stopped MS before? ;-) Said corporate entity has had no problems stepping on others' toes in the past, so if someone in the organization thought there could be profit made (or _perceived_ profit lost) MS will have their lawyers in overdrive in short order. As always, the above is IMHO...

Realvdude
Realvdude

It expands the developer base. I learned BASIC on Tandy and Commodore, and first used it professionally as GW BASIC on a Packard Bell PC. I've been using MS versions since 1991. Those that learn and use C# open source are just a step away from being MS developers. I think the Express Editions of MS development tools is good support that MS is willing to give something away to keep their corporate market supplied with talent and allow them to keep selling product.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Microsoft copyrights it and it gets pulled from Debian Linux? It is their intellectual property, they invested the time, money and effort to build it and therefore have the legal right to place C# under copyright and license its use in the future. Will the inclusion or exclusion have any major effect on the Linux world? Maybe, but I doubt it. Besides, from what I know of the law, what has once been put into the public domain can not be removed. For example, the Happy birthday song itself is public domain, new performances of the original song can be copyrighted but the original song remains in the public domain.

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

I'm a "patent-a-phobe" too. i think the current copyright/patent/trademark system here in the states is bunk and should be stripped and redone in the interest of the People. Then I remember that the vast majority of "the People" just don't care as their rights to everything are stripped. Welcome to 1984!

Jaqui
Jaqui

after all, Linux is only a kernel. He does care what happens to GNU. Though I agree, he is the biggest mouth, unfortunately, he is also a radical. edit to add: From when I heard him on Copyright and the Community talk here, it's simplest put as: RMS doesn't believe in Intellectual Property rights. He promotes reverse engineering / cloning of software that is proprietary.

csmith.kaze
csmith.kaze

"Microsoft copyrights it and it gets pulled from Debian Linux? It is their intellectual property, they invested the time, money and effort to build it and therefore have the legal right to place C# under copyright and license its use in the future." I'm not a firm believer in intelectual property first and foremost, so that argument doesn't work. I don't think C# is going anywhere, regardless of anyone's opinion of it. And with GNOME just about reqquiring it now, it will take one hell of a fight to extract it under any law suit. The real question should be this: Should a company copyright then deny access to a programming language? I don't see how that is a good idea. Its like Britain copyrighting the English language then suing America because we use it too. Programming Languages should be public domain by default.

qlue
qlue

The "Happy Birthday" song is copyright by Sony Records. Any commercial use of the song requires a licence from Sony Records. It's sad, but it seems that 'public domain' is less clear but than you think.

Jaqui
Jaqui

I agree with the "philosophy" he espouses. I don't agree with the methods he proposes.

Justin James
Justin James

Even if one agrees with RMS's beleifs, his approach to the world is pure insanity. I put about as much stock in what drivels spews forth from his mind as I do the ravings of a guy on the street corner with a cardboard sign that says "the end is nigh", wearing an oversized trenchcoat in the summer with a bottle dangling out every pocket. J.Ja

kenneth_hedin2000
kenneth_hedin2000

"The real question should be this: Should a company copyright then deny access to a programming language? I don't see how that is a good idea. Its like Britain copyrighting the English language then suing America because we use it too. Programming Languages should be public domain by default." I agree that programing languages should be public domain. My reasoning is this: If you purchase a liscense to use that language, and you use that language to write a program for something other than their OS, you can copyright that program. M$ would have no claim to your software. But if they had a copyright on the language, they'd own part of whatever software was written with it, and could claim in a lawsuit that because it was built on their language they are entitled to royalties. This probably won't happen because it's like me wanting to copyright the entire English Language because I created a new word.

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