Monopolytics: Porting the .NET framework

.NET was originally conceived as a portable framework that would run on any number of platforms. Microsoft has gradually diminished their ambitions for .NET and Silverlight, but as long as Mono and Moonlight lived, there was proof that the framework can be ported. It came as a surprise to many, therefore, that Attachmate should close down the Mono project so soon after purchasing Novell, and fire all the Mono team. Surely a Linux port of the .NET framework is something that the industry wants, and what Microsoft needs?

It might seem odd to worry about .NET’s credibility whilst it continues to dominate the industry. However, Microsoft’s poor showing with windows-based mobile devices and tablets means that a .NET framework that can only run on Windows isn’t an option. .NET developers need Mono, and the commercial products that use it such as MonoTouch, Unity3D, and MonoDevelop to give them the confidence to develop applications for the whole range of successful mobile devices and servers.

Fortunately for the .NET community, the founder of the Mono project, Miguel de Icaza, announced a fortnight after the Attachmate putch that the project lived, with the mono team working for a new company Xamarin. It looks as if they had been planning to create a spin-off in time but not expecting the layoffs. This means that there will now be three companies producing commercial products based on Mono, Grasshopper for ASP.NET on Linux servers, Unity with an iOS framework and Xamarin with iOS, and Android offerings.

A managed framework is a great help for developing iOS applications even if it is just to allow you to forget about memory management. Added to that is the huge resources of the .NET framework. A programmer can develop for iOS, Android and Windows and share almost all the non-GUI code. It could even be used for a Windows Phone 7 version! If current plans succeed, we might even eventually be able to port GUI code using a strong Mono Silverlight implementation on iOS and Android if they can get over the poor fit of the Silverlight/Moonlight Binary Interface with android or iOS.

Now that there seems to be a reasonable long term strategy for Microsoft in the mobile market in combination with Nokia and Skype, It would be great to get this final missing part of the story in place.