Monday, October 03, 2005

Is .NET (Mono) The Open Source Platform of the Future?

Been looking into Mono, The Open Source .NET clone. In an attempt to win people over from Java it appears that Microsoft has gone to some lengths to ensure that .NET is percieved as open.

In fact, my understanding is the the .NET VM (Common Language Runtime or CLR in Micorsoft talk) specification has been submitted to the ECMA, an international standards body.

I guess that the people at Microsoft thought that as long as they could control the .NET implementation, then .NET would be proprietary. But with an open standard anyone can create an implementation.

The Mono implementation supports Windows, Linux and OS X on the Mac. In addition, Mono has ported a broad set of languages to the .NET platform, including Ruby.NET, #Smalltalk and even Java.

I first thought that this common language VM thing was just a marketing ploy. But if you think about it, it is a great idea. What normally locks developers into a given platform is the supporting tools. But with a VM your code will run on any platform that the VM has been ported to. Thanks to Mono, for .NET that means all major platforms. The secound barrier to developers changing technology is library support. If the only good user interface library for Windows is written in C#, then I guess your stuck using C#, but with .NET/Mono you could choose to program in say Ruby.NET and still use your C# libraries.

So you program in Java, but there is a great library in GtK#, no problem, just compile your GtK# libraries into a Java jar (Java stubs) and link at run-time.

I'm not sure just how good Mono is, but I do know that it is backed by Novell, and with time it can only get better. From the look of things on the Mono website, it is more than ready for production use. The other concern of mine is that I'm not sure just how well the CLR supports languages other than C#. In particular I'm not sure how much support is present for dynamic languages like Smalltalk and Ruby. If the CLR byte code does support both dynamic and static languages fully or is extended to do so, then .NET has got to be the ideal open source platform.

Think about it. You decide that Ruby is more productive than C#, well just use Ruby.NET. You've got loads of Java libraries you want to use, well if you've got the source, just re-compile for .NET or if not dynamically translate the jars to .NET at runtime.

I don't think the Java/J2EE world has an answer to this kind of flexibility. The EJB monolithic container model has failed, and the light wieght, mix and match services a la carte model is available on .NET as Spring.NET and Hibernate.NET.

I'm keeping an eye on Mono. If it delivers, we as developers will be free to use what ever platform, language or libraries we choose. And with .NET locked into the ECMA standards process, I don't think Microsoft can do anything about it.

Microsoft setting the world free. Isn't that a thought!

1 comment:

Trond Andersen said...

You should consider the issues with Mono:

Microsoft have also indicated that the new UI that's going to be part of the next version of Windows (whidley???), is going to be restricted - so if Mono implements that, they probably will get into trouble.

Not just sunshine in the horizont