Debian, Mono, licenses and matters of technology

Starting with this blog post regarding the inclusion of tomboy note-keeping application into the default installation of GNOME desktop on Debian GNU/Linux, quite a discussion has started whether or not free software should depend upon Mono and/or mono should be included in a default Debian installation. Mono Project, as some might know, is aiming at being an open-source re-implementation of .NET framework and technologies originally created and provided by Microsoft, partly being covered by more-or-less “open” standards like ECMA C# and CLI, partly being suspected of being protected by software patents thus eventually being difficult used along with free-as-in-free-speech software.

Generally, I don’t really want to go into bothering about the technical and legal aspects of this discussion, as enough has been written on that so far already, and I don’t really know what else to add to this… except for one thing: In some way, this whole mess is rather irritating to me, as it seems to show that, in this field of technology, Microsoft has won after all… It’s not about .NET (not) being a good technology – actually, I think a lot of ideas provided by .NET and/or Mono are rather good even looking at it from a Java developers point of view. What really bothers me here: Making a “software libre” desktop system built upon the re-implementation of Microsoft technology feels utterly strange. It feels like, while most of “the software development world” has moved on the last couple of years providing new concepts and technologies, the “software libre” folks thoroughly have missed creating a development environment more sophisticated and reliable than old-fashioned C/C++ for most of the doings. So what remains in the end? No matter why you want to choose an open source or even “software-libre” desktop, maybe even for the reason of not depending upon Microsoft technology (for whichever reason you don’t want that), you will suddenly see that a whole load of applications (like tomboy, f-spot, banshee and a growing bunch of others) in this “supposed-to-be-free-of-Microsoft” world actually are built upon Mono which at its very heart is based upon a Microsoft invention. This eventually is not the message “software libre” distributions want to send out to the world, even though .NET eventually is the best thing Microsoft have come up with so far…