July 19, 2009

Spitting in the wind – Mono 180?

Filed under: Linux/FOSS,Technology — dann @ 8:31 pm

A few months ago I took a look at my feelings about software patents with regards to Mono. I had, then, been pretty against the use of Mono for it’s roots in MS technology. But, after some well developed points raised by the pro-mono side I found myself agreeing with them. I began to sympathize with them and think that maybe, just maybe there wasn’t a real issue here. Then Microsoft after some more veiled threats turned around and sued TomTom. That got my cackles up, raised some alarms.

A few weeks later, after the dust settled and the battle had ended and we all started to move on again, my thoughts on Mono were challenged after hearing the other side speak out about how we should not worry and that Mono is no more a threat than any other language, etc. So I figured, to hell with all this in fighting! Should there be concern, should their be patent violates let MS fire the first shot and let the patent wars begin. Let the truth as to whether Mono violates MS’s intellectual property or Linux in general be put to the test in courts.

Then Microsoft put some of their .net standards that Mono is based around under their community promise not to sue. I thought this was great, this is it, no more bickering. I figured that some would point out shortcomings with this promise as usual, and then we could eventually move on.

Well here I am another few weeks later after reading the shortcomings, listening to some more people and I am still in the dark. This whole issue is a miasma of confusion, political and ideological bantering, and a damning schism.

Which side is right? Again, we won’t until it’s put to the test. Will it be put to the test? I’m skeptical, why? Because I listened to the wonderful audio presentations from SELF, heard the tactics MS has used, listened to RMS, listened to the proponents of Mono, read the groklaw articles and thought some more for myself.

The cost of waging a war on patents is more than any one company wants to bear. We have the open innovation network to help out there, but consider the TomTom case. Notice that out of the 7 or 9 patents at stake, only three related to Linux. Is TomTom going to go to bat for those 3 patents if the other 4 or 6 infringe? No, they are going to have to find a settling point. Since right off the bat a company is facing 8 to 10 million US dollars to fight a patent suite, it makes more sense financially to settle, especially when there is the possibility that you may be found guilty. This does not mean that the Linux patents were legitimate, but sprinkle a few illegitimate patents in with more genuinely infringing patents and you’d be a fool to step up to the plate. Even more, TomTom was facing an injunction, which they could not suffer for the length a trial would take.

There is a big problem with the system. Microsoft is learning more and more everyday how to exploit the system to their ends. Sure, there are people, developers at Microsoft who are friendly towards the FOSS community, who I am sure truly want to interoperate and share ideas with. But on the other hand, there is a documented and significant population who will do whatever it takes to crush any threats to the company. Linux has been identified as threat number 1. Look at how they have behaved with their closed door deals and threats? Can we truly trust them.

I stand behind my assertions that the Mono team is truly talented and they want to enjoy and spread the technology they love, to excel in their craft. I do not for once think Miguel has anything but true love for development and seeing FOSS software improve. I think Mono applications are great. Tomboy, Banshee, GnomeDo are tops in their class.

But I for one cannot ignore the warning signs placed in front of me each time I start to sway from my original opinion. It’s a bittersweet decision to have to make and it is one each person should make for themselves: Whether they feel Mono is a threat or not. But it becomes more than that. Since the avenues to the technology we love come with decisions we may or may not like. To that end, follow the path you feel is right. That is the one thing that is nice about FOSS, you can choose what you want and what you don’t want. It may take some extra effort on your part, but that is one of the tenants behind FOSS. The choice to support and share what you support. We don’t have to share with a hammer, smashing that which we don’t. Instead, share with an open hand, and be kind to the other side. They feel just as passionate as you do. Only time will tell where all this will lead, but let us make it a fun and pleasant ride.

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