Skip navigation

When I was young, in the days before live CDs and Linux netbooks, I lost Windows and all of my data. I had already been upset with the poor craftsmanship, sportsmanship, and lack of competitive decency shown by the players at Redmond and although it wasn’t really Microsoft’s fault that I had just lost a few years worth of projects, writings, and data, I was ready for a change. As I started from ground zero, with a Slackware 7(ish) install not yet able to drive my computer’s video, sound, or network and zero experience with Linux, UNIX, or even DOS, it was a very steep battle but I pressed on.

I read about how this whole Free Software thing got started. I learned about Richard Stallman, and his early work developing a ridiculously impressive text editor. He decided to steward it’s source code differently than anyone else at the time. Instead of charging for the program binaries or merely freely distributing the source, he would instead codify a new set of principles which would ensure the software remained free and accessible for all users.

Merely open source would not do, no one would be allowed to shackle his code. In this act, a community was born. A user could enjoy the use of a huge library of software, a user-developer could work to improve it, and everyone benefits. Oftentimes the user-developers would be so enamored by the grace of the gesture and the sweat of hard work invested by the developers, and they would begin their own separate projects to expand the coverage of what would quickly become a veritable ecosystem of code. Stallman made no assertions as to the sale of the software, only that all modified source code would be available to all users. It did not take long for the economically-minded to craft business models which resonated with the principles of Free Software.

Though I learned of the power of free software long after the movement was long underway, my commitment to the community and tenants of free and open source software is very strong. A great many others feel this way, most even more than I with a resume of community participation and contribution which greatly outweighs my own. I myself have contributed free code to such edge projects as Slicker and Y, and have from time to time submitted patches to a few of the larger desktop projects such as Xorg.

But the work which I am most dearly fond and proud of was my work on the SharpOS kernel. We did something incredibly novel and intriguing, and we managed to meet and exceed our initial goals. The project was truly open source in it’s creation, evolving from a shared discussion of a number of open source C# developers participating in the Mono Project at the time. During my tenure there I also introduced the foundations for a new windowing system (SharpWS), BASH-like command shell (Nash), and a set of UNIX base utilities to complement the SharpOS base system.

For those who weren’t in-the-know during it’s development (and I commend you, then, for reading my blog anyway), SharpOS became dormant because of a clash between the commitments to free software of some of the developers, and the pull away toward an open source model. Mircea Cristian Racasan (Chriss) led the majority of the core developers in the notion that our considerable work should remain protected under the terms of the General Public License, but outside influences wanted to see the code become open source instead. I did offer to switch licenses for the secondary projects I had contributed (SharpWS, Nash, and SharpOS-CoreUtils), but could not advocate the same for the SharpOS kernel, nor the AOT which Chriss had mostly developed.

As a result of the unavoidable schism, more projects with similar goals to SharpOS appeared, first with a fellow Chad Hower, much-aligned to Microsoft (and thus non-copyleft open source) and then with one Scott Balmos, with whom we merely had design disagreements (licensing was still an issue, but to a lesser extent). Considerable effort was applied to these initiatives, and the scene fragmented. Harsh words were exchanged, a lot of difficult effort was duplicated, wheels were reinvented. I advocated for friendship and respect between the factions, and I among others helped push for a joint forum where code could be shared, topics discussed openly, and mutual respect could eventually lead to more progress for all of the groups involved.

And here is where my conflict begins, o friends, for despite my dedication to the ways of Free Software, the church of Richard Stallman has made my fellow C# developers and I to be extant. I am a principled man, once a radically anti-Microsoft boy. My principles include that of tolerance and community. Another of my principles is recognizing the accomplishments of a particular technical/engineering solution. Microsoft made an excellent development platform with their .NET efforts which far surpasses Java in design, coherence, usability, and features. The CLI is easier to extend and to implement. The behavior of Microsoft towards CLR licensing and standardization has been more than adequate, and any of Microsoft’s patents which cover the standardized portion of the CLI have been waived under a royalty-free[sic]* license required by the ECMA. This leaves the nonstandard portions like System.Windows.Forms, System.Data, and others which are distinct and easily removed if Microsoft decides to return to it’s dirty bastard ways. Listen, Microsoft is not trustworthy, they are not our friend, and they are competition for the Linux desktop. But for the most part Microsoft is reaching out in a positive way, and this needs to be acknowledged.

The truth of the matter is that the code that we write in C# cannot be taken away from us. Microsoft cannot sue anyone for writing software in C#. They cannot sue anyone for including a Common Language Runtime, and they cannot sue anybody for using software written in C#. The FSF knows this enough to implement the CLI in their DotGNU project. Yet still Stallman preaches not using C# software and not developing C# software. To me, this means some people who might find my software useful will fail to try it out because Richard Stallman told them to avoid C#. What do you have against me, RMS? This is incredibly insulting to True Believers of FOSS who code C#, and I am left hurt.

Microsoft can sue people for using patents via unofficial clones of their proprietary APIs, which the community acknowledges. Why isn’t this where Richard focuses? He should be advocating the blacklisting of Microsoft’s extra APIs which do offer an actual *threat* to the Linux companies which are distributing them right now. It seems he has grown out of touch with what is relevant, opting instead to merely draw a black line between himself and anyone vaguely associated with Microsoft, taking no exception to hurling insults and generally ignoring the voices of the Free Software fellows who see C# and the CLR for what they are: an excellent programming language on top of an excellent development platform.

With his recent comments about Miguel de Icaza and his continued effort to make pariahs of C# supporters in the FOSS community, Stallman is alienating the entirety of the Mono, MOSA, Axiom, Grammatica, Tomboy, and Banshee communities among many others.

Look us all in the eyes, Stallman, and tell us that our contribution means nothing.

* UPDATE: Having run into a bit more reading around forums and stuff I realized that I was wrong about ECMA requiring royalty-free patent licenses for patents related to the standards. While this certainly produces some doubts in my mind, I still have to stand by the CLR, as the wonderful platform that it is. Microsoft does have the Community Promise, which basically says we won’t sue you if you implement enough of the specs, but I was left with a sense of ambiguity after reading into it. The solution though is pressing Microsoft to follow the tried and true open source patent licenses like those used by the Open Invention Network and IBM. The solution is not to just push Microsoft away and ignore the progress, alienating the developers who code with Microsoft’s frameworks.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: