Open-source .NET inches closer to fruition

The open source effort to create a freely-available version of Microsoft Corp.'s .NET development environment is set to take a leap forward Wednesday, when developers from the effort known as the Mono Project detail its latest accomplishments at a conference dedicated to open source software.

Miguel de Icaza, chief technology officer at software maker Ximian Inc. and lead Mono developer, will host two sessions on the Mono Project at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) in San Diego, California. The show begins Monday with technical sessions and runs through the end of the week.

News of Mono's progress will be among several announcements from companies that make open-source software, which is typically available for free or at lower cost than products from proprietary software vendors and with the underlying source code freely available.

The Mono project will detail tools it has developed that will allow programmers to build Web-based applications based on Microsoft's .NET platform and execute those applications on computers that run versions of the Linux and Unix operating systems, according to Ximian.

"For the first time, we are really starting to show people how they can do development on Mono," said Jon Perr, vice president of marketing at Ximian, in Boston, Massachusetts.

It was one year ago at the OSCON that de Icaza first detailed Mono, which has pledged to develop an open-source version of the Microsoft .NET development platform, called the .NET Framework. In addition to about 10 Ximian developers working on Mono, the open source project has attracted contributions from 90 outside developers, Perr said. So far, more than 520,000 lines of code have been completed.

"We think .NET is going to be really important, and being able to allow Linux and Unix to participate is our goal," Perr said. "As .NET applications become more important, we want to make sure that developers will have the choice of which platform to use to develop and execute them."

A Web service built using Microsoft's .NET programming tools can only be hosted on a server running Microsoft software because products from the Redmond, Washington, company includes a technology called Common Language Infrastructure (CLI), a central piece of the runtime environment that enables a Web service to work. Similar to how a JVM (Java Virtual Machine) resides on a computer and runs Java applications, the CLI is the engine needed to run .NET applications.

The .NET Framework is Microsoft's commercial implementation of the CLI, and it includes additional features, such as class libraries and special tools for designing client-side user interfaces.

With help from Intel Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., Microsoft in October 2000 submitted drafts of the CLI and the C# programming language to an international standards body called the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA). They were approved in December 2001 as standards and published for use by Mono and other development projects.

The submissions were intended to spawn cross-platform .NET development, said Emmanuel Stapf, a member of the ECMA committee that approved the CLI, and a lead developer with Eiffel Software Inc., which created the Eiffel programming language.

"Microsoft wants other platforms to adopt its model of Web services so that applications can be written to run across different platforms," Stapf said. "That's really what they want to achieve. They want to promote their model of building Web services."

Taking advantage of the standards, Mono developers have pledged to release sometime this year the "Mono Core," which will mimic the .NET Framework for Linux and Unix operating systems. However, even Mono members admit that there is still much work to be done before the first version of Mono is released.

"There are things that are part of .NET that ... would be difficult to implement on other platforms," said Stapf. For instance, the graphical interface libraries, known as Windows Forms, are Microsoft APIs (application program interfaces). "The Mono guys are trying to implement the Windows Forms, but I'm guessing that will be a hard thing for them to do."

Mono developers have yet to recreate the Windows Forms, Ximian said. The group has, however, completed a JIT (just-in-time) run-time engine, and a C# compiler that is self-hosting, which means it can automatically compile an application written in C# to run on Linux or Unix systems. De Icaza is scheduled to demonstrate those updates on Wednesday at OSCON.

In other open-source news, product announcements are due from a variety of software vendors attending the show.

-- Covalent Technologies Inc., which makes a set of commercial products based on the freely-available Apache Web server software, is expected to announce a partnership with Microsoft, according to a Covalent spokeswoman.

-- ActiveState will demonstrate future releases of its integrated development environments (IDEs) built on top of the Mozilla Web browser and Microsoft Corp.'s Visual Studio .NET developer tools, including Komodo version 2.0. The Vancouver, British Columbia, company will also demonstrate its e-mail security and filtering software built on Perl, according to a statement.

-- Sun Microsystems Inc. plans to announce new additions to its open source IDE called NetBeans. The company will release 18 new modules, or "plug-ins," to the Java-based developer tool environment, it said. Also notable, those new modules will be made available under a new process that allows NetBeans contributors to automatically upload new modules to the Web and make them available to other users, according to the Santa Clara, California, company.

-- Companies and researchers using open source software in the bioinformatics industry will be on hand to discuss new efforts in that area.

More information about the O'Reilly Open Source Convention is available at http://conferences.oreillynet.com/os2002/.

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