An uncertain future for open source .Net

Layoffs at Attachmate put the future of the Mono Project in question, dimming hopes for cross-platform C# development

When Miguel de Icaza founded the Mono project in 2004, he was ridiculed. No way would Microsoft allow an open source implementation of its .Net platform to exist, critics said. Even after Mono gained commercial backing from Novell, many assumed Microsoft would soon move to crush the project, either through patent claims or more underhanded means. Microsoft never did -- so far. Now it looks like it may not have to.

As first reported by InternetNews.com, Attachmate, the systems and security management company that completed its acquisition of Novell for $2.2 billion in April, began layoffs this week. The exact number remains unknown, but from the sound of it, virtually the entire Mono team has been let go.

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"We have re-established Nuremburg [Germany] as the headquarters of our Suse [Linux] business unit, and the prioritization and resourcing of certain development efforts -- including Mono -- will now be determined by the business unit leaders there," Attachmate CEO Jeff Hawn told InternetNews.com.

That leaves Mono's future uncertain, to say the least. It's still unclear whether de Icaza, who held the title of vice president at Novell, himself received the axe; he couldn't be reached for comment. Although in November he tweeted that the Mono team would continue as is, this is now clearly not the case. Mono has very much been de Icaza's baby since its inception. Even if he continues to guide the project, the team that saw Mono through nine successive releases is apparently no more.

The curse of Microsoft
Some will say good riddance. The specter of Microsoft has always haunted Mono, particularly among those zealots who consider any technology from Redmond to be anathema to the open source movement. They fear Microsoft will wait until the Mono platform is mature enough, then subvert it by asserting hitherto-undisclosed patent claims, leaving anyone who developed applications using Mono in a lurch (and presumably, beholden to Microsoft).

But de Icaza has long worked to dispel these claims. He points out that the ECMA 334 and 335 standards, which describe the C# language and the .Net Common Language Infrastructure (CLI), have been placed under Microsoft's Community Promise, by which Microsoft affirms it will not file any patent claims against anyone who develops open source implementations of those standards. Furthermore, relations between Microsoft and the Mono team have remained cordial throughout the life of the project.

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