iPhone gets .Net app development

Novell technology lets developers use .Net and C# instead of C or Objective-C to build applications for Apple's handheld

Novell on Monday will offer a kit for developers to build Apple iPhone and iPod Touch business applications using Microsoft's .Net Framework instead of the Apple-designated C or Objective-C languages.

Leveraging Novell's Mono runtime for running Windows applications on non-Windows systems, Novell's MonoTouch 1.0 is a commercial software development kit that lets developers utilize code and libraries written for .Net and programming languages like C#.

[ See InfoWorld's report on the case for supporting and using Mono. | Looking for business-class iPhone apps? Start with InfoWorld's free, interactive iPhone app finder. It separates the wheat from the chaff and makes it easier to find iPhone apps for business and IT users. ]

"What's important here is that C# and .Net are considerably more productive development environments than the native iPhone language, which is Objective-C," said Miguel de Icaza, vice president of the developer platform at Novell and the leader of the Mono project.  With MonoTouch, the Mono runtime provides such developer services as garbage collection, thread management, type safety, and Web services, de Icaza said.

Novell anticipates applications being developed ranging from productivity applications to line of business systems, health care applications, and games, he said. Individual developers and software vendors can sell their products into the iPhone market, while corporate developers and IT organizations can deploy applications on a new mobile environment,  Novell said.

MonoTouch features a software development kit and a suite of compilers, libraries, and tools to integrate with the Apple iPhone SDK. Developers can take advantage of native iPhone APIs. A cross-compiler is included to turn .Net executable files and libraries into native applications for distribution on the Apple App Store or for deployment by enterprise iPhone users. Ahead-of-time compilation is used instead of a Just In Time compiler, enabling distribution in the Apps Store.

Integration with Apple's XCode IDE enables devloeprs to test on the iPhone device or on the Apple iPhone Simulator, Novell said.

With MonoTouch, Novell brings a new development paradigm to the iPhone, said analyst Al Hilwa, program director for application software at IDC.

"MonoTouch brings a new option to the table," Hilwa said. "I would say that applications closest to the metal will continue to be written in Objective-C, but where developers want to target multiple platforms, including apps that cross over between desktop and mobile, MonoTouch allows them that portability. Of course, the big win with it is that it opens the door for some 5 million .Net developers to begin to do iPhone applications."

"The success of the iPhone and apps for the iPhone suggest that Objective-C is being well-tolerated out there even though people complain about its lack of familiarity," Hilwa said. "The average developer has to learn Objective-C to program on the iPhone, very few developers know it to start."

Although Mono is associated with the LGPL (GNU Lesser General Public)  license used for distributing free and open source software, Novell with MonoKit is distributing Mono under commercial terms. The LGPL requires that users can replace an LGPL library with their own version of a library, a conflict with App Store requirements, according to Novell.

"We have the rights to redistribute Mono under commercial terms and that's what we're giving to users here," said Joseph Hill, product manager for Mono at Novell.

MonoTouch Enterprise Edition is available for a one-year subscription for $999. About 2,000 persons have been signed up for the MonoTouch beta program, which began in early August.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.