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On the Current State and Future of Mono

by Jonathan Allen on May 09, 2011 |

With the purchase of Novell by Attachmate, the future of the Mono project has been put into doubt. And with the typical post-acquisition layoffs and gag orders placed on the employees, rumors are running high. While we still don’t have the full story, we are putting together what we do know.

The firestorm of rumors started with the May 3rd article by Sean Michael Kerner.

We have re-established Nuremburg as the headquarters of our SUSE business unit and the prioritization and resourcing of certain development efforts - including Mono - will now be determined by the business unit leaders there," said Jeff Hawn, Chairman and CEO of The Attachmate Group in a statement sent to InternetNews.com. "This change led to the release of some US based employees today. As previously stated, all technology roadmaps remain intact with resources being added to those in a manner commensurate with customer demand.

One of the first rumors was that the entire Mono staff was laid off. Another was that 30 Mono developers, which is still a huge number, were let go. According to Miguel de Icaza, “That number is made up, there is no source for that.” Miguel is not only the founder of Mono, he was also Novell’s Vice President of Developer Platform. In response to the statement, “I guess you are not allowed to speak about the details or you just don't know yet.” Miguel wrote on the Mono for Android mailing list,

Correct. But the CEO of Attachmate has said that roadmaps will continue, I think that is all I can say for now.

It has been confirmed that the former Novell is being split into two separate parts. SUSE, which includes the SUSE Linux distribution, will be headquartered in Provo, Utah. The rest of Novell will be based in Germany. After a major reorganization in 2009, Novell was internally split into two business units, the “Collaboration Solutions” unit and the “Security, Management, and Operating Platforms” unit. Given that that SUSE Linux Enterprise, SUSE Studio, and Mono were all part of that second business unit there is a good chance that Mono will operate under the new SUSE division.

In evaluating the long term prospects of Mono we have to look at the three facets of the product line.

At the core is the open source version of Mono, which appears to generate no direct revenue. In addition to being the foundation for everything else, it acts as a lure for .NET developers. Mono works especially well for server-side applications such as web sites and back-end processing services, for which SUSE Linux Enterprise offers an alternative to Windows Server.

The second facet is the commercial products for enterprise developers. First up is the SUSE Linux Enterprise Mono Extension. The features and benefits they claim are:

  • ASP.NET on Linux
  • Broader hardware support
  • Target Linux from Visual Studio
  • Performance and scalability

Since this sounds like what you get from the free version of Mono, we are a little unsure about the benefits of this product. (Novell has been contacted and if we find anything interesting InfoQ will be running a follow-up article.) Another product that falls into this category is Mono Tools for Visual Studio. This product offers some useful features for cross-platform developers including

  • Running the Mono Migration Analyzer directly in Visual Studio
  • Remote debugging for Mono applications, even when running on OS X or Linux
  • Bundle applications into RPM packages
  • Create a “Linux Appliance”, which is a virtual machine preconfigured with SUSE Linux, Mono, and your application.

For .NET developers there is no Microsoft alternative for this last feature. To even consider it you would have to contemplate the logistics of selling your customer not only your application, but also a Windows Server license for the VM.

The third aspect of Mono is the mobile tools line, another commercial venture. Here we find the most angst amongst the general community. Developers are increasing turning to MonoTouch and Mono for Android as an alternative to completely rewriting their applications for each type of mobile device. Unlike enterprise developers who can continue to use the free/open source version of Mono or move back to .NET, mobile device developers are betting heavily on this technology and if the platform is abandoned they face a major rewrite. Nikolai Sander is one such developer,

This would be a catastrophe for us! We invested heavily in MonoDroid and MonoTouch. We share 90% of our code between Android and iOS and just released an app on NookColor (MonoDroid) and submitted a new app to Apple written entirely in MonoTouch. If the wheels come off on this one we would have to throw away 1/2 year of code... For a small developer like us this would be horrible!

Crossing my fingers...

As all of these products include maintenance contracts of a year or longer, Attachmate would have to give a significant amount of notice before fully terminating the Mono project. And it would throw into doubt their commitment to their other product lines that have a mixture of closed and open source components.

To end on a happy note, on May 5th MonoTouch 4.0.2 was released. This is a minor the update to the MonoTouch 4 series which included

  • Core Mono Runtime upgraded to Mono 2.10 (.NET 4.0 APIs, Parallel Frameworks support , C# 4.0 support)
  • LLVM-backed optimizing compiler
  • Support for the new APIs in iOS SDK 4.3

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Re: On the Current State and Future of Mono by Stefan Wenig

AFAIK Novell also has some big time paying customers in the gaming industry (unity, 2nd life) and elsewhere. This and the mobile platforms should be enough business interest to make sure someone, even if not Attachmate, finds a business model that supports further development. And if attachmate can't find a buyer, I hope they just put the whole thing under some permissive license. I can't see why they wouldn't - letting it die generates no money either, but would put a shadow of uncertainty over everything else they bought.

Re: On the Current State and Future of Mono by Jonathan Allen

That is very good point. When I was writing this article I was focusing only on direct revenue, I hadn't thought about their first-tier partners such as Unity. I'm sure they have no interest in dropping their product line regardless of what Attachmate decides to do.

Last I heard Second Life just uses the open source version (possibly with their own tweaks), so I don't think they would be inpacted in the same way.

UPDATE by Jonathan Allen

1. Miguel is planning an annoucement on Monday about the future of Mono.

2. On twitter the statement "libmono.so is in stock android 3.1 build" keeps being repeated. When we have more details we'll let you know.

Re: UPDATE by Steven Shaw

Miguel's announcement.

tirania.org/blog/archive/2011/May-16.html

The Mono team were layed off and have formed a new company Xamarin.

www.xamarin.com/

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