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Microsoft’s Open-Source Trap for Mono

Microsoft is claiming that releasing the .NET Framework reference source code under the Microsoft Reference License will give developers the opportunity to understand more about .NET.

That sounds good for open source, doesnt it? Wrong! Microsofts so-called opening up of .NET Framework is setting a trap for open-source programmers. Open-source developers should avoid this code at all costs.

You see, as Scott Guthrie, general manager of the Microsoft .Net Framework in Microsofts Developer Division, himself explains, the Microsoft Reference License allows viewing of source code, but not modification or redistribution. The source code will be downloadable and viewable by anyone who accepts the license agreement. This is another step in Microsofts Shared Source Initiative attempt to confuse people on what open source is, and isnt.

Microsoft had the sheer gall to submit two of its Shared Source Licenses to the OSI (Open Source Initiative) for approval as an open-source license. Fortunately, the OSI shows no signs of agreeing that these are in any way, shape or form open-source licenses. In particular, the Microsoft Permissive License is unlikely to be approved, according to Michael Tiemann, the president of OSI.

In licensing circles, theyre arguing over Microsofts language. Though with this .NET Framework move, we can see Microsoft poisoning open source in action.

The key is that Microsoft will let you look at the code but you cant use it in your own programs or modify it and use in your software. Now, theres already a set of open-source programs, Mono, that let you develop and run .NET client and server applications on Linux, Solaris, Mac OS X, Windows and Unix.

Mono is sponsored by Novell. Its led by noted open-source developer Miguel de Icaza. The Mono code is covered by three different real open-source licenses. The C# Compiler and tools are released under the terms of the GPLv2 (GNU General Public License); the runtime libraries are under the LGPL 2.0 (GNU Library GPL 2); and the class libraries are released under the terms of the MIT 11 license.

Thanks to Mono, we now have the popular Linux programs such as the Banshee music player, Beagle search tool and F-spot photography program. With Mono, you can also now run Visual Basic programs on Linux. Mono is also working on porting Microsofts Silverlight 1.0, a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering richer Web user experiences in a project called Moonlight.

All of these programs are now in danger from Microsoft.

I know, I know, if you just look at the headline, the executive summary, “Microsoft opens up .NET,” it sounds great for Mono open-source developers. Its actually a death trap for Mono.

Lets say a year from now, Microsoft does a SCO. They claim that Mono contains code that was stolen from the .NET Framework reference source code. They point at their code, they point at the license, and sure enough, theres similar code. After all, both projects are implementing .NET; there will almost certainly be lines of code that looks alike.

Better still, from Microsofts point of view, all they need to do is find one Mono programmer who has signed the license to look at the .NET Framework reference source code. With that “proof,” theyll claim theyve found their smoking gun. SCO failed in its attempts because it never did have any evidence that there was Unix code in Linux.

Microsoft, however, is baiting its trap for Mono programmers with .NET cheese. Theyll claim, come that day, about how open it was in letting people look, but not touch, their code. With the combination of “proof” that some Mono code has been stolen from Microsoft and its attempt to muddy the waters about what open source really means, it can look forward to having a much better chance of killing off an open-source project than SCO ever had with Linux

If you ever, and I mean ever, want to write open-source code, I recommend you not come within a mile of Microsofts .NET Framework code or any other similar projects that the boys from Redmond “open” up.

If you do, youre nibbling on the cheese of a trap that will eventually snap shut on you and kill up your program and quite possibly your job and finances.

A version of this story first appeared in eWEEK.

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