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Wednesday, 16 September 2009 09:20

Miguel snuggles closer to Microsoft


Over the past week, a couple of events have served to highlight the extent to which Novell vice-president Miguel de Icaza is helping Microsoft to implement its strategy of curbing the growth of free and open source software.

However, one is yet to see anyone drawing this obvious conclusion - it almost looks like people don't want to face up to the obvious.

On September 10, Microsoft announced it was setting up the CodePlex Foundation, a business grouping but disarmingly sitting at a .org domain. (Something like Slashdot, which claims to be a community site and also uses .org as its primary domain suffix).

And on Monday, Novell announced the release of MonoTouch, a commercial toolkit for porting applications written in .Net and Mono to the iPhone. In other words, De Icaza, who heads the Mono project which is developing an open source clone of parts of the .Net development environment, is acting as a proxy to develop tools to help Microsoft to fight in Apple's space.

SCO played a similar role when it began its now infamous case against Linux.

De Icaza greeted the CodePlex announcement as another "step in the right direction" by Microsoft. If one is inclined to believe him - and there are some in the FOSS community who still live and die by his every word - then this is one move by Microsoft towards becoming "  a full member of the open source community".

De Icaza is one of the board members of the CodePlex Foundation. He is credited with being the "creator of Gnome" by the foundation though he is a co-founder of the project, the other founder being Federico Mena-Quintero. The Foundation has also highlighted the fact that De Icaza received an award from the Free Software Foundation in 1999 - though if he is a "passionate and long-standing advocate for open source" one would be more inclined to ask why he hasn't received any recognition since.

The short bio also says: "Miguel works on the Mono project, an implementation of Microsoft's new .NET development platform on Linux, and on Moonlight, a Silverlight implementation on Mono." IIt would again be more correct to describe Mono as a ceaseless attempt to play catch up with .Net.

(I'm waiting to see whether De Icaza, who paints himself as the soul of integrity, will ask his buddies at Microsoft to correct these mistakes.)


De Icaza himself has no qualms about pointing out that he was kicked off the board of the FSF for "refusing to be an active part" in what he says was a campaign to rename Linux as GNU/Linux. This sits somewhat at variance with the glowing descrption of him as an open source advocate but never mind.

My respect for the FSF has gone up a thousand-fold after hearing of this.

What I do find strange is that few people have heard of this campaign that De Icaza mentions. All I have seen is polite requests by FSF founder Richard Stallman to acknowledge the contribution the GNU Foundation has made to all distributions, by using the name GNU/Linux instead of Linux; in truth, the latter only refers to the kernel and Stallman has never sought to rename the kernel.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting one's contribution to be recognised. Even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who built the Apple I and II in their entirety and without whom there would have been no company, felt the need to remind the world at large about his contribution a few years back through a co-authored book called iWoz. It was published at a time when Apple was becoming synonymous with Steve Jobs.

The CodePlex Foundation is a commercial entity. The board, set up under the non-profit rules of Washington State, has complete control over the foundation and is also self-perpetuating, according to a detailed analysis by Andy Updegrove.

The motives of the foundation are pretty clear: to enable "the exchange of code and understanding among software companies and open source communities."

What this translates to is fairly simple too: there are just so many developers of free and open source software. If these folk are busy developing applications for Windows, then who will have the time to develop for Linux? Remember, it is only killer applications that make an operating system grow in the desktop space; VisiCalc did it for the early Mac.

No doubt, there will be commercial incentives on offer for the developers who go the Windows route. Not direct incentives but indirect ones - hosting facilities, development assistance and, for those who suck up the most, the occasional trip to Redmond.

As I've pointed out more times than I care to remember, there are two cash cows for Microsoft - Windows and Office. Microsoft is very happy to have open source applications around - as long as they do not compete with these two.

Incompatible document formats are the method it uses to fight the spread of And if other open source applications run on Windows, why would people bother about GNU/Linux at all?

To return to De Icaza, if he is making a contribution to the CodePlex Foundation, then by extension he is also contributing to extending  the dominance of Windows on the desktop.

By pushing out SDKs like MonoTouch he is also helping Microsoft fight its rivals.

In a press release accompanying the announcement, De Icaza is quoted as saying: "The vast majority of Windows-centric developers, ISVs and IT organizations (sic) have chosen the C# language and .NET for development."

He's pretty good at spin of this nature, just pulling things out of the air much in the manner that a village magician pulls a pigeon out of his coat sleeve. We mustn't be surprised at these flights of fancy - remember how his company Ximian used KDE keywords to promote GNOME?

And this man is still called an open source advocate? Heaven help us.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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