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Mono and GNOME. The long reply

Originally from:

    * From: Miguel de Icaza <miguel@ximian com>
    * To:, gnome-devel-list@gnome org
    * Subject: Mono and GNOME. The long reply.
    * Date: 06 Feb 2002 01:06:50 -0500

Hello everyone,

   I am sorry that I have not been able to respond earlier.  I would
like to apologize to anyone who might have been confused about my
strategy with Mono and what I am trying to do.    Also, I want to thank
everyone on the mailing list that has contributed to the discussion, I
used a lot of your ideas on this email.

   Before starting though, I would like to ask my readers to forget
everything they have heard about .NET, because it is a marketing term
used to describe many different Microsoft projects, and there is a lot
of information both correct and incorrect about it floating around.

   My goals with Mono are very specific, and I will address those
shortly, but for the sake of getting things done, please forget
everything you have heard about .NET.

* First, the Facts

    GNOME is not adopting Mono or .NET as an implementation
    technology.  The headline from the Register is misleading,
    for a number of reasons:

        * The headline does not reflect any statements I
          made on the interview (if you read the interview
          you will notice this).

            * The only future plans that have been approved by the
                  GNOME team (which has 11 voting members on its
          board) are found here:


        * I am not the GNOME foundation or control GNOME like
          Linus controls his kernel, I am just its founder and
          a contributor.

        * GNOME is not built by an individual, its built by
          a team of roughly 500 contributors in many areas.

        * Decisions in the GNOME world are done by active
          contributors and module maintainers.  I have given
          my maintainership status on every module I
          maintained to other members of the GNOME team as
          I got more involved with Ximian and later on with

          So effectively I have no "maintainer" control.

        At this point on time, the GNOME team is working on shipping
    version 2.0 of the desktop and the development platform, a major
    upgrade to the desktop offering, and everyone is quite excited
    with this.

* What is Mono?

    Mono is an implementation of three pieces of technology:

        * A compiler for a new programming language, similar
          to Java, called C#.

        * A virtual machine for the Common Intermediate
              Language (CIL) byte codes.

        * A set of libraries that encapsulate useful routines
              and classes: from hash tables, to XML manipulation,
          to database management, to GUI applications, to web
          construction tools.

        These are usually referred in the Microsoft world as the `.NET
    Framework' as opposed to .NET.  When I say `.NET Framework' here,
    I am talking about these technologies.

    Seasoned industry programmers will notice that the above is
    very much like Java and the Java VM.   They are right, the above
    is just like Java.

    The CIL has one feature not found in Java though: it is
    byte code representation that is powerful enough to be used as a
    target for many languages: from C++, C, Fortran and Eiffel to Lisp
    and Haskell including things like Java, C#, JavaScript and Visual
    Basic in the mix.

    I wish I had the time to go in more detail, but for the sake
    of this argument, the above will suffice.

    Although Ximian can only finance the work of a C# compiler
    (that is all the resource I have at my disposal), I want to
    encourage other people to work on free implementations of other

    I want to encourage other developers to look at targeting
    existing compilers and interpreters to the CLI: JavaScript, Basic,
    Perl, Python, C++, and maybe even get gcc core to generate CIL

* The CIL and the promise of language independence:

    Bertrand Meyer (the father of Eiffel) wrote an interesting
    article that encapsulates my excitement about the possibilities of
    the CIL:

    This technology allows programming languages to be considered
    on the basis of how they will perform for a given task, and not
    based on the runtime libraries that you will depend.  Any software
    engineer should read this article:

    So no longer should a software engineer pick Fortran, because
    that is the only language where his math libraries are available:
    he can now pick the right language for the problem at hand.

* Mono and GNOME.

    GNOME had always tried to have a good support for multiple
    programming languages, because we realize that no matter how much
    we loved C as a programming language, there was a large crowd of
    people out there that would like to use the GNOME libraries from
    their favorite programming language, which might not necessarily be

    This strategy has paid off very well.  There are healthy and
    striving Python, Perl, Guile and Ada communities out there that
    use the Gtk+ and Gnome bindings to build applications.  From rapid
    prototyping to robust applications: we wanted to empower

    Keeping language bindings up to date and shipping them on time
    has always been a consuming process, because no matter how
    automated this process has turned out to be, there is still a
    considerable amount of manual work that needs to be done.

    I do go into more details about this at the following places:$1275

* An upgrade to the development platform: Part I.

    Microsoft has terrible APIs to code against.  Anyone who has
    used Win32 and any combination of the various layered cakes that
    have been built on top of it has stuck to that platform only
    because of the size of the market, but it is one of the most
    horrible APIs ever built.

    To make things worse, an evolution of APIs, components, memory
    management contracts and patched up versions of COM have made the
    platform horrible.

    Microsoft has injected fresh air into their platform by
    building and designing a new programming platform that addresses
    all these pains.  They have incorporated many ideas from Java, and
    they have extended it to address new needs that developers had.
    They took where Java left off.

    Now, the Unix platform, GNOME included has some of these
    problems: our APIs have been evolving.  Libraries have been built
    by disconnected groups (PNG, JPEG, Gtk+, Xml, Bonobo, CORBA spec
    apis, etc) and the end result is that a developer eventually has
    to learn more than he wanted to in the course of developing a
    large application.

    Ximian funded for a long time the work on the Perl bindings,
    and we had a lot of work going into Bonobo (more than we do today)
    because we believed that this would help us achieve language
    independence and empower scripting language developers (that is
    why we were so psyched about CORBA/Bonobo support all this time).

    When C#, the CLR and the class libraries were launched, we
    looked at that, and we saw how they were solving the problem in a
    very nice way.  At least it appealed to me and others from a
    purely technological standpoint.  This new platform showed a lot
    of promise.

    After much researching and debating, we decided that a couple
    of developers at Ximian will join me in working on a free
    implementation of these specifications.   These people came
    precisely from the cross-language interoperability area: Dick
    Porter had been working before on ORBit and our SOAP
    implementation;  Dietmar Maurer came from the Bonobo development
    world and Paolo Molaro was working on Gtk+/Gnome/Bonobo bindings
    for Perl.  This is the original Mono developer lineup.

* Evolution, Gnumeric and GNOME.

    I have written and maintained many lines of code as part of
    my GNOME work.  Ximian has developed Evolution which consists of
    roughly 750,000 lines of code.

    Large software projects expose a set of problems that can be
    ignored for smaller projects.  Programs that have long life times
    have different dynamics when it comes to memory management than
    smaller programs.

    There is a point in your life when you realize that you have
    written enough destructors, and have spent enough time tracking
    down a memory leak, and you have spend enough time tracking down
    memory corruption, and you have spent enough time using low-level
    insecure functions, and you have implemented way too many linked
    lists [1]

    [1] indeed, GNOME uses Glib which is a massive step up from
    the Unixy libc APIs.

    The .NET Framework is really about productivity: even if
    Microsoft pushes these technologies for creating Web Services, the
    major benefit of these is increased programmer productivity.

    Evolution took us two years to develop and at its peak had 17
    engineers working on the project.  I want to be able to deliver
    four times as many free software applications with the same
    resources, and I believe that this is achievable with these new

    My experience so far has been positive, and I have first
    hands experience on the productivity benefits that these
    technologies bring to the table.  For instance, our C# compiler is
    written in C#.  A beautiful piece of code.

    It can be argued that I could be wrong, and that these
    technologies are too new.  But my personal experience and the
    experience of some of my friends with this platform has been
    amazing.   I want to share with others this simplicity.  And I
    want to empower developers: I want to enable a whole class of
    developers to create great desktop applications that integrate
    with GNOME.

* Why is Mono related to GNOME?

    It is no secret that I have been working on Mono as a new
    platform for software development, and it is also not a secret
    that I want to help the GNOME project with Mono.  This has been
    the plan since the project was announced in July.

    Mono will use Gtk+, Gnome-Db, Libart, Gnome-Print and other
    GNOME technologies as part of its implementation of its class
    libraries, because that is what my team and I are familiarized

    So when you copy your binary from Windows that was compiled
    with the Visual Studio.NET and run it on your Unix platform,
    it will just integrate nicely with your GNOME desktop.

    We are also exploring a port to MacOS X, and for that
    particular case, we will integrate with Aqua, not with Gtk+, but
    you get the idea.

* GNU was based on a proprietary technology.

    GNU is a free re-implementations of Unix.   Linux is a
    re-implementation of the Unix kernel.  Before the advent of Linux
    and the Berkeley Unix, Unix was a proprietary technology, built by
    ATT (which back in the day, was a monopoly).

    Still, developers took what was good from Unix, and
    reimplemented a free version of it.   Down to the Unix programming
    language: C (which was also invented at ATT).  Even C++ was
    invented at ATT.

    Think of Mono as following the same process: we are bringing
    the best technology out there to our beloved free software
    platform.  And at the same time it serves to be a magnificent
    upgrade on the development platform.

* I can not force anyone.

    Whether people in GNOME or elsewhere will use Mono is
    independent of my opinion.  Mono will have to stand on its own
    feet, and will have to convince developers on its own merits
    before it succeeds.

    When I made my comments to the Register reporter, I was
    envisioning that in a couple of years Mono would be a really solid
    technology: a good JIT engine, good class libraries and would be a
    useful platform for innovation: it would allow people to focus
    more on the problems at hand and worry less about the low-level
    details of the platform.

* Rewriting GNOME.

    Havoc brought up an important point recently, an article from
    Joel Spolsky:

    The short story is: rewriting code does not pay off, and I
    agree with the thesis of the article.  Rewriting GNOME in C# with
    the CLR would be a very bad idea, if not the worst possible idea

    But what makes the .NET Framework technologies interesting is
    that they are evolutionary technologies:

    * The runtime can be linked into an application.


        bash$ cat hello.c
        #include <mono.h>
        main (int argc, char *argv [])
            mono_init (argc, argv);
            mono_assembly_load ("classes.dll");
            mono_ves_execute ("Class.Main");

       So existing applications can be "extended" with Mono, take
           a piece of code like Gnumeric, and write a new chunk of it
       using Mono for example.

    * There is no language switch required.

      You can keep using your fav language, and gradually start
      writing new pieces of code in another language that runs
      with all the benefits of "managed" execution.

    I go into some more detail here:


    As you might realize by now, GNOME 4 is not planned, it is not
    possible to know what is in there.  So my comments on GNOME 4 only
    reflect the fact that I personally believe that people will see
    that Mono is an interesting platform to write new applications.

    So in the future the applications that will be shipped, very
    likely might contain Mono technologies.  Whether this is limited
    to new applications only, or this is something used in more
    fundamental pieces of the system is an entirely different matter.

    But for now, GNOME 4 is non-existant project.

* Fighting the System.

    The .NET Framework will exist in the Windows world, and
    because of this they will be widely deployed.  It is a pointless
    battle to pretend that boycotting the use of those technologies
    will have any kind of effect on their reach.

    The .NET Framework stands on its own feet, and developers
    in the Windows world love it.  Even if this was not the case,
    Microsoft is using these technologies and distributing to as many
    people as possible.  We are witnessing the creation and deployment
    of a new standard.  Sure, it has a lot of corporate support, but
    it will become a widely deployed technology.

* Other uses of Mono

    Despite my love for Mono as a tool for writing GNOME
    applications and giving developers new tools to write code in less
    time, there is an extra advantage in having a free implementation
    of the .NET Framework for Unix:

    * Windows developers know how to write code for it.

    * Lets make it easy to bring developers from the Windows world
      into our platform.

    * Training materials, tutorials, documentation, tips and
          tricks are already available in large quantities, lets
      leverage this.

* Mono Financing.

    Right now Mono is financed by Ximian because we believe that
    this will reduce our cost of development for future applications.
    And thats why we are really focused on Mono for the desktop
    (amusingly the ASP.NET support in Mono has evolved more rapidly,
    because Gaurav and Leen have been very excited about this, and
    just have been producing code like crazy).

    So even in the Mono world, I do not get to make all the
    decisions: people work on what they are interested in developing.

    The Mono community is great!  Lots of passionate programmers
    work with us, and I feel very happy that I have had a chance to
    work with all of them.

    At this point in time Ximian has only a small team of full
    time developers working on Mono (five) and a lot of the work is
    being done by contributors on their spare time, or hackers that
    want to see the .NET Framework run in other platforms, or
    people who share our enthusiasm for the platform, or people who
    just like to hack on a particular area and just love to code.

    But I would like to hire more full time developers: the open
    source development model is great for getting the fun/short things
    done, but it is terrible to get the long-haul, boring, repetitive
    or dull things done.

    I want to be able to bring more people to work full time on
    Mono.  I would like to offer the services of Ximian as a project
    manager to keep driving this project forward, and get cash
    infusions to hire developers to work on this project.

    The only restriction is that all of our work has to be free
    software.  But other than that, I am ready to take money from
    anyone or listen to any kind of proposals for making this happen.

    Some people wonder if we have got a Microsoft investment or
    contract (because I like this Microsoft technology).  The answer
    is no.  But I would take one if they wanted to fund my free
    software project ;-)  Man, I wonder what that would be like!

    Implementing the .NET Framework is a massive effort, and I
    want to enroll as many contributors as possible.

* API compatibility.

    I believe that the `Embrace and Extend' philosophy is bad for
    users and developers.  Whether its a large corporation doing it,
    or ourselves.  I want to be as compatible as possible with the
    APIs that were published by Microsoft.

    This achieves various things:

        * Allows developers to move back and forth.

        * Reduces training.

        * Helps us leverage existing knowledge.

    Of course, this should not stop anyone from implementing new
    APIs.  And I even encourage people to write new classes, APIs and
    components that will be reusable both on Unix and on Windows.

* What if we never can keep up?

    There is the issue that we might not be able to keep up (right
    now, we dont, as .NET Framework 1.0 is already out there, and we
    are, well still underway).  Also, theoretically there is the risk
    of a given API being unimplementable on Unix.

    Even if that is the case, we still win, because we would get
    this nice programming environment, that althought might not end up
    being 100% .NET Framework compatible, it would still be an
    improvement and would still help us move forward.  So we can reuse
    all the research and development done by Microsoft on these ideas,
    and use as much as we can.

    So far all it seems like everything in .NET can be emulated in
    our environment.

* Richard Stallman

    I am not sure what people told Richard Stallman about my
    plans.  Given the confusion surrounding .NET, it is very possible
    that people were asking `Miguel wants to depend on Passport' or
    something just as bad as that.

    My only intention is to write applications using the CLI as a
    development platform, which is really not very exciting for a news
    paper to report: "Programmer to use new compiler, new garbage
    collector, news at 11".

    Really, programmer's lives are boring, I wish my life would be
    as exciting as other people's life appear to be.

* Further debate.

    I have just scratched the surface in this email, I do like a
    lot the technology behind the .NET Framework as you might have
    noticed from the interviews, no secret there.  I can go on for
    hours, but I have to set a limit to this email.

    I hope this explanation will get us through, feel free to
    e-mail me if you believe I have missed something or if you are
    interested in contributing to make this vision happen.


    I would like to thank Nat Friedman for providing moral,
    technical support all these years and his unconditional
    friendship.  It has been a fun adventure.

    Without Nat I would probably have gone crazy by now.


    I kind of got sentimental after reading all the nice e-mail on
    the GNOME lists. After all, writing software alone is not that
    interesting, the most interesting part is interacting with other
    developers, and watching how community projects grow.

    I would like to thank all the people I have worked over the
    years: every GNOME developer past and present, every Mono
    developer past and present and all my friends at Ximian who have
    created a great place to work.

    This community is great, and I have loved working with an
    increasing number of people as free software becomes more
    popular.   I know sometimes I have been unreasonable, but I am
    trying to learn from my mistakes.  Am just too good at being