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Explain yourself Miguel, demands RMS

.NETification of GNOME - latest

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A surprised and dismayed Richard M Stallman says Gnome project founder Miguel de Icaza owes the community an explanation for comments made to The Register, last week, in which de Icaza advocated basing the project on Microsoft.NET APIs.

"I can't believe it's Gnome you're talking about but if it is, I wouldn't like that," Stallman told an audience at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil last week.

Stallman only learned of de Icaza's intentions to slip the Mono project - based on Microsoft's .NET framework - into Gnome as "the natural technology upgrade" when asked by the audience.

Gnome - the GNU Object Model - is the part of the GNU Project, started by Stallman in 1985.

"I didn't know he was doing that, I find that very hard to believe," he said.

"We would like him to come to the free software community and explain himself to us about it."

Brazilian tech site HotBits has more details here, with a number of other snippets of RMS on globalization, and GNU matters, accessible from the current edition's front page. We're grateful to Renata Aquino for providing us with a translation.

Outraged Gnome users were mailing us over the weekend vowing to abandon the platform, and GnomeVFS maintainer Ian McKellar (who we inexplicably missed when we called in on Danger the other week) took a swipe at Miguel on the Gnome hackers mailing list: "You don't speak for me and you don't speak for most of the Gnome developers I know". (He also takes a sideswipe at us - we're "usually full of FUD and lies," apparently).

However , Miguel has been entirely consistent. From our own interview at the time of the Mono announcement, to this recent Q&A, he's justified Mono primarily is a better technology infrastructure for Gnome.

So if you didn't see this one coming, you simply haven't been paying attention.

Nor has Miguel made any secret of his ambitions to enrich the software libre desktop with more sophisticated infrastructure, using Microsoft Windows as the model. The Bonobo technology was designed to provide a lightweight compound architecture inspired by The Beast's COM, and there was even a Gnome Basic scripting language mooted at one point.

Miguel has told reporters that only an immigration technicality prevented him from becoming a Microsoft employee four years ago - the small print of the H1-B Visa process disqualifies students who haven't completed their degree course.

Sheep in wolf's cloning

With the community gathering at LinuxToday, to discuss the wisdom of the suggestion, a couple of interesting areas have emerged.

One of the justifications offered for Mono cloning the .NET APIs is that other open source projects do too. Don't WINE and Samba clone the Microsoft protocols or interfaces? Isn't it really all OK? The difference, however, is that Win32 and SMB are dominant standards, and producing a workalike, particularly in the case of Samba, provides an interoperability technology that doesn't entrench the monopoly; Samba is in effect a great big device driver that lets a non-Windows machine access Windows network hardware. .NET is different, in that it the .NET framework has precisely zero users right now, if you discount the more nebulous services such as Hotmail, which have been dragooned into the markitecture.

More worrying for any open source project - particularly one as broad and pervasive as Gnome - is the wisdom of committing to a single vendor's semi-open specifications.

As de Icaza acknowledged last week, "few, very few" of the .NET classes have been submitted to ECMA. And Microsoft has hinted that it would make sure .NET clones pay for using Microsoft technology. How, we'll have to see. It may be worth noting that The Beast typically doesn't view patent infringements in the simple, hand-over-the-money style of a Qualcomm or a Rambus, and is actually more frequently the recipient rather than the initiator of patent infringement lawsuits. But rather, it looks for downstream opportunities it can leverage with business partners.

And in any case, does de Icaza have the personal capital to influence such a decision? Well he might, but in theory it should only go so far. The industry-sponsored GNOME Foundation, has an elected board, which meets fortnightly, and where agenda items such as "8.b. Proposal to sell our souls to The Satan of Redmond in perpetuity" can be postponed until after tea and biscuits.

One of the sponsors of the Foundation is Sun. As we pointed out on Friday, the prospect of selling boxes with the sticker "Solaris - Powered by .NET" might persuade Sun to start taking an active interest in the Foundation. Like, really, really active. ®

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