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Will Linux succumb to the dark side?

Plans to build GNOME on top of Microsoft’s .NET cause a stir.

In a move fraught with irony and controversy, Miguel de Icaza, a founder of the GNOME desktop project, announced his desire to build future versions of GNOME on top of Microsoft’s .NET framework.

De Icaza views .NET as a way to allow developers to create applications using the programming language of their choice, instead of being restricted to the C language.

His goal is that the Linux .NET effort, called Mono, would advance to the point where developers would prefer to write .NET applications, using Mono instead of programming to the GNOME C APIs. If a significant part of the GNOME desktop software gets ported to .NET, then developers could use any .NET-supported programming language, including Perl, Python, Eiffel, and the well-known C# (pronounced C sharp), among others.

The Mono project aims to create an open source Linux and UNIX version of the .NET development environment, including language compilers and the Common Language Runtime that allows programs written in multiple programming languages to execute on top of the same runtime engine (similar to how Java works).

Embracing a Microsoft technology, though, comes with a lot of baggage. Microsoft may change .NET to require components available only on Windows, forcing a lock in to Microsoft technology. This is the infamous “embrace and extend” philosophy Microsoft has demonstrated again and again. Furthermore, Microsoft may point to the Linux .NET efforts (Mono and DotGNU) and claim these efforts somehow prove Microsoft is not a monopoly. (Of course, there is a lot of doubt whether any of the legal cases against Microsoft will ever amount to any real sanctions.)

In addition, Microsoft is not well liked among many in the Linux camp. De Icaza has backed off initial reports that he was going to force Mono and .NET on the GNOME desktop. He now points out, rightly, that the .NET framework allows development with multiple programming languages. After providing so many useful programs over the years, I trust de Icaza’s explanation.

This just caps off a recent time of GNOME-based controversy. Prior to the .NET furor, the Mono project decided to abandon the GNU Public License, or GPL, at the request of corporate sponsors Intel and Hewlett-Packard, at least for the libraries of programming components, called class libraries. Instead, the class libraries produced by Mono will be released under a more flexible MIT X Window Consortium-style license.

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