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

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Who can save Mono now?
To lose all of the potential of these tools now would be a terrible shame. The Mono platform is open source, so independent developers are free to continue work on the project. But it's also complex technology, and tracking the latest developments from Microsoft requires considerable effort. It seems unlikely that Mono will be able to keep up with the pace of .Net without some sort of commercial backing.

Attachmate has made no specific comments regarding the future of the Mono project, but the cryptic language of its statement to InternetNews.com, in which it said resources would be allocated to former Novell projects "in a manner commensurate with customer demand," doesn't bode well for its open source offerings.

Analysts, too, are unsure as to Attachmate's commitment to Mono -- or to the Suse Linux group in general. According to Forrester Research vice president Jonathan Penn, "Attachmate is far more interested in Novell's systems management and security business than in the platform business."

One possibility, then, is that another company might step in to take Novell's Suse and Mono assets off Attachmate's hands. But who? IBM might be one candidate, but Big Blue has always been reluctant to compete directly in the Linux business, preferring to let its customers choose between Red Hat and Suse; and with its WebSphere platform, it's almost as committed to Java as Oracle is.

The most likely candidate might be the least-expected one. Microsoft has been working to revise its stance on open source for the last few years, softening its rhetoric and even sponsoring open source projects through the Outercurve Foundation (née CodePlex). Its patent-sharing deal with Novell, though much-maligned, turned out not to be the blow that killed Suse, Mono, or Novell after all -- rather the opposite. Maybe it's high time Microsoft put its money where its mealy mouth is, by directly investing in the effort to make .Net and the CLI a free, open, cross-platform software development platform.

Then again, that could be a mixed blessing. Although such a move could ensure a long future for Mono, as long as the open source community keeps viewing Microsoft's influence as poison, it could also be the ironic straw that breaks the camel's back.

This article, "An uncertain future for open source .Net," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest news in programming at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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