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Talking About the Shuttered Mono Project

On April 6, Novell shipped the production version of the Mono for Android development tool, which enables.NET developers to build applications for Android-based devices. Three weeks later, Attachmate finalized its $2.2 billion purchase of Novell. A week after that, on May 3, Mono lead Miguel de Icaza broke the news via Twitter that Attachmate was shuttering the Mono effort and had laid off the entire team.

I interviewed Mono developer and book author Wallace B. McClure about Mono for Android soon after it shipped. With the news that development of Mono tooling had ceased, I decided to go back to McClure and get his thoughts on the sudden turn of events.

Michael Desmond: Were you surprised to learn that Attachmate put the entire Mono crew out on its ear?
Wally McClure: This was a complete shock to me. I heard rumors, but changes tend to happen when a company is taken over, so I didn't think too much about it. Unfortunately, it was hard to figure out what was going on. I watched them ship out updates to MonoTouch after the announcement, so I didn't think too much about it.

To get the phone call that everyone was out was a big shock to me. I was very thankful for that call and it really meant a lot to get that phone call. I wish I had gotten it before I stood in front of about a one hundred people and said that I think that Mono is a good solution for .NET developers, but I can't get everything. We are/were in the final stages of our book [on Mono development], so this threw a wrench into those plans. Thankfully, [my publisher] Wiley is great to work with, so we've already worked out a plan for this.

MD: In an interview with John Waters at ADTmag.com, de Icaza seemed to indicate that his efforts were hampered by Novell. Was there frustration on the part of developers with regard to the pace of Mono innovation on the mobile front?
WM: It's not been a problem with adding new features. The MonoTouch team was very responsive to issues and always had updates out within 48 to 72 hours of users getting a new version of the iPhone operating system. Where there has been frustration is getting the word out that these products exist and that they can be used to produce a mobile application. There are a large number of developers that don't know that MonoTouch and Mono for Android exist. They don't have to abandon C# to get on the iPhone or Android.

While picking up Java/Eclipse to go to Android isn't a killer for most developers, ObjectiveC/XCode is a completely different animal. It contains some pretty stiff learning curves for developers. Getting the message out that a developer can continue with their existing language, C#, and framework, .NET, has been met with shock and surprise by many. The bottom line has been that the lack of marketing money has been the real problem that I have seen with Mono under Novell.

MD: Why do you think Attachmate moved so quickly to shutter the Mono Project?
WC: My personal speculation is that Attachmate looked at the Mono products as bringing in a small amount of money relative to the cost of the team when looked at on a year by year basis. With the shipment of MonoTouch and now Mono for Android, I suspect that they were seeing significant revenue along with a significant growth rate on a month by month basis. Companies think year-to-year, which might be the problem. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists think of things on a month to month basis plus they look at growth rates.

My guess is that MonoTouch was seeing steady growth and may have been close to paying for a good deal of all the Mono team. Mono for Android had just shipped with version 1.0, so it was just entering the marketplace and I think it had more promise than MonoTouch. I think that this was where the disconnect was, and the value was hidden in the details of profit and loss statements.

MD: It sounds like de Icaza's new startup Xamarin will be forced to essentially re-build the functionality of MonoTouch and Mono for Android. What's the impact on developers like yourself, who have invested in these mobile technologies? Are you back to square one? In short, how much does this whole situation suck?
WM: The impact has been significant at this point. Earlier this week, I had assumed that the interest level in cross-platform .NET would go to zero. As I've talked with you, conference organizers, Wiley and customers, the interest has NOT dropped to zero at all. While there is concern and work is getting pushed back, some work isn't. Miguel and Xamarin have promised that the APIs for the different Mono for iPhone and Android products will be source code compatible. Given that the APIs are driven by iOS and Android, this seems to be entirely possible.

Our plan is to continue with the current MonoTouch product. I suspect that it will work properly up for a while. Once we have a version of the products available, then we'll be able to move forward. Obviously, this has been a delay, but I see it as a delay and not a cancellation. The length of the delay might be shortened if Miguel is able to negotiate for the rights to MonoTouch and Mono for Android.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/24/2011 at 1:15 PM


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