31. maj 2011 22:46

The Mono project

The family of Mono related products has lived a rather bumpy life. The original Mono project is an open source implementation of the .NET framework created by XimianIn 2003 Novell acquired it and they created Moonlight – an open source Silverlight implementation based on Mono. Lately MonoTouch and MonoDroid – closed source .NET oriented frameworks for creating application for the iOS and the Android platforms respectively – were added to the family. Novell has however as of November 2010 been acquired by Attachmate which subsequently laid off what appear to be most of the people working on Mono.

So what is the current state of Mono?

The original Mono project as well as Moonlight are open source projects and while their direct impact on software development is rather limited they have an important role to play in showing that the .NET framework and Silverlight can be implemented by someone else than Microsoft. Whether the necessary efforts will continue to be committed in the development of the open source projects will have to be seen but they will most probably continue to exist in some form or another.

MonoTouch and MonoDroid on the other hand actually had the potential to be part of a puzzle creating maybe not a uniform .NET platform for the mobile world but then at least a somewhat coherent offer for the .NET developer that wants to reuse competencies as well as part of the application logic. Unfortunately it seems that with Attachmate’s layoff of Mono people MonoTouch and MonoDroid is currently caught in a limbo. As it does not seem that Attachmate will continue to support the products one can only hope that others will take over. One contender for doing so is Xamarin – a new company founded by Mono’s father Miguel de Icaza and other members of the former Mono team. In his inaugural blog post Miguel says that Xamarin will create multiple offerings for the mobile platforms: “we will first deliver the iPhone stack, followed by the Android stack, and then the Moonlight ports to both platforms.“. He continues to say that the new (commercial) versions of .NET for the iPhone and Android “will be source compatible with MonoTouch and Mono for Android”. Whether that approach will lead to legal complications I have no idea but from all angles it would probably be better if Xamarin could acquire the rights to continue the existing work on MonoTouch and MonoDroid.

The most interesting point in Miguel’s post is however in my opinion the above reference to “Moonlight ports to both platforms” and the phrase saying that Xamarin will “Explore the Moonlight opportunities in the mobile space and the Mac appstore.”. I am a bit uncertain what exactly that means as Apple still doesn’t seem to like the “virtual machine/download applications on-the-fly” approach we know from traditional Silverlight. One feasible approach might however be to bundle the Moonlight engine with each and every app so that the Moonlight engine and the Moonlight application is considered one standard application from a marketplace point of view. In that way Apple would still get it’s say in what applications are allowed to run on iOS - and it’s share of the profits…

As a .NET developer I think that it could turn out to be a killer feature if the same Silverlight based application could run on iOS, Android and WP7. So best of luck to the code-monkies at Xamarin.

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