Linux, Java proponents embrace .NET

Two small development shops are looking to help companies use .NET Web services with Linux and Java.

Ximian Inc., a small, Boston-based developer specializing in user interfaces for Linux, will formally announce on Monday an open-source project to create a Linux version of Microsoft Corp.'s .NET platform.

On the Java front, San Jose, Calif.-based Halcyon Software Inc. is enabling developers to either migrate their Active Server Pages or Visual Basic code to JSP (JavaServer Pages) or Java, respectively, or to deploy .NET applications on Java-based infrastructures.

Ximian's Mono Project will incorporate basic .NET building blocks including a C# compiler, Common Language Runtime compiler, and a complete set of class libraries, all of which will help developers create platform-independent .NET applications.

The Mono Project will enable the creation of both graphical interfaces using Gnome components as well as the development of server applications and Web Services. Source code will be available under the General Public License (GPL) and the Lesser General Public License (LGPL), which company officials believe helps quicken the development of .NET-compliant run-time and development environment.

"Our motivation is purely selfish in that we want to have better tools for Linux. As part of the Gnome project, we have been trying to come up with a new development platform and a number of tools and components that would make it easier for people to develop applications," said Miguel de Icaza, Ximian's CTO and president of the Gnome Foundation. "And with .NET coming along we now have something that works correctly."

He believes there is enormous potential in Web services as well as in Microsoft's .NET initiative. He believes the Mono Project can help the open-source community realize that same potential in the Linux world.

The Mono Project has three central elements as part of its development framework, according to de Icaza.

The first is the C# compiler, which serves to extend the Gnome development platform out, giving Linux developers the chance to create .NET-compatible applications. Second, developers can use the full set of class libraries, which are compatible with Microsoft's CLI, to create applications and Web services. Third is a Linux version of the Microsoft CLR run-time engine that allows Linux systems to run .NET applications built on Windows, Linux, and Unix.

"We are basically replacing Windows calls with the Linux equivalent. By the time the project is done you can copy .NET apps over to Linux and run them untouched on Linux, or develop the apps on Linux and run them untouched on a Windows server," de Icaza said.

Although Ximian will make most of the technical contributions to the Mono Project, it will be seeking help from the open-source community to complete it. In terms of joint development work, the good news about .NET technologies, according to de Icaza, is they can be divided up into subcomponents easily allowing all developers contributing to the project to work independently.

"Individual developers can take care of one component, and as long as the APIs they create are consistent with the Microsoft version, we don't care what happens inside," de Icaza said.

Under the terms of the GPL and LGPL licenses as used by the Mono Project, developers are free to write and distribute commercial and proprietary applications, something that is prohibited under Microsoft's shared source license, according to Ximian officials.

Some developers like the freedom to develop and deliver commercial applications the Mono Project is offering them, compared to that of Microsoft's license.

"Momentum has been building in the open-source community to extend .NET development framework to new platforms without the strings of Microsoft's shared source program. With Ximian's announcement I think you will see a groundswell of support from open-source developers to build a true cross-platform implementation," said Bruce Parens, strategic advisor to Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Linux Systems Operation.

Meanwhile, Halcyon's initiative originally supports Microsoft's ASP.NET, the recent adaptation of its ASP technology for building Web sites to the .NET platform, but they plan to increase support for more Microsoft programs.

"We'll be a small step behind Microsoft in terms of releases," said president and CEO Don Hsi.

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Ed Scannell

Computerworld
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