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To Mono Or Not To Mono

Open source seems to attract -- or maybe breed -- controversy, both from without and within. This week there's been a good deal of noise on the role of Mono -- the open source implementation of Microsoft's .NET framework -- in Linux. Is it a legitimate worry or much ado about nothing?

Open source seems to attract -- or maybe breed -- controversy, both from without and within. This week there's been a good deal of noise on the role of Mono -- the open source implementation of Microsoft's .NET framework -- in Linux. Is it a legitimate worry or much ado about nothing?

Fedora feels it's something to worry about, and that's why there are plans on the table to exclude Mono from Fedora 12 -- in part due to the fact that applications that would nominally require Mono are being swapped for others that don't. A big part of it is unease about the licensing, but no small amount of unease comes from the fact that .NET itself is a Microsoft creation.

Some don't feel it's worth the worry. Among them, Jo Shields, who itemized plenty of reasons why the furor over Mono is rather silly. The listed points include something I've been touching on for a while now: you can't define yourself wholly by what you're against, or you end up being for nothing in particular.

What's most troubling about this uproar is how it is, sadly, business as usual for the Freer Than Thou crowd. The whole point of Mono was to create an implementation of a software framework that didn't require the Windows platform to be useful -- itself a strong step away from needing proprietary software to develop and run good software. In short, they were not just talking about how bad proprietary software was, but attempting to do something constructive about it. The demonization of Mono is not constructive, because it falls back into the camp of "don't do that" with no counter-example ("do this instead, it's provably better").

Should Fedora exclude Mono from Fedora? Sure, why not? It's their distribution; they're free to include or exclude whatever they like from it. There's nothing stopping anyone from adding it on after the fact, or creating a whole derivative distribution that adds Mono back in.

But here's a bigger question: Why is it that the biggest, most savage, most divisive arguments within the open source world involve the actions of its own people? I've wanted to believe that it's par for the course, but there are plenty of counterexamples of open source development that are civil and mature, and didn't require the demonization of people who were ostensibly on the same side.

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