Tag Archives: mono

Xamarin 3.0 brings iOS visual design to Visual Studio, cross-platform XAML, F#, NuGet and more

Xamarin has announced the third version of its cross-platform tools, which use C# and .NET to target multiple platforms, including iOS, Android and Mac OS X.

Xamarin 3.0 is a big release. In summary:

Xamarin Designer for iOS

Using a visual designer for iOS Storyboard projects, you can create and modify a GUI in both Visual Studio and Xamarin Studio (Xamarin’s own IDE). The designer uses the native Storyboard format, so you can open and modify existing files created in Xcode on the Mac. The technology here is amazing, since you iOS controls are rendered remotely on a Mac, and transmitted to the designer on Windows. See here for a quick hands-on.

Xamarin Forms

Xamarin has created the cross-platform GUI framework that it said it did not believe in. It is based on XAML though not compatible with Microsoft’s existing XAML implementations. There is no visual designer yet.

Why has Xamarin changed its mind? It was pressure from enterprise customers, from what I heard from CEO Nat Friedman. They want to make internal mobile apps with many forms, and do not want to rewrite the GUI code for every mobile platform they support.

Friedman made the point that Xamarin Forms still render as native controls. There is no drawing code in Xamarin Forms.

“The challenge for us in  building Xamarin forms was to give people enhanced productivity without compromising the native approach. The mix and match approach, where you can mix in native code at any point, you can get a handle for the native control, we’re think we’ve got the right compromise. And we’re not forcing Xamarin forms on you, this is just an option,”

he told me.

Again, there is a quick hands-on here.

F# support

F# is now officially supported in Xamarin projects. This brings functional programming to Xamarin, and will be warmly welcomed by the small but enthusiastic F# community (including, as I understand it, key .NET users in the financial world).

Portable Class Libraries

Xamarin now supports Microsoft’s Portable Class Libraries, which let you state what targets you want to support, and have Visual Studio ensure that you write compatible code. This also means that library vendors can easily support Xamarin if they choose to do so.

NuGet Packages

The NuGet package manager has transformed the business of getting hold of new libraries for use in Visual Studio. Now you can use it with Xamarin in both Visual Studio and Xamarin Studio.

Microsoft partnership

Perhaps the most interesting part of my interview with Nat Friedman was what he said about the company’s partnership with Microsoft. Apparently this is now close both from a technical perspective, and for business, with Microsoft inviting Xamarin for briefings with key customers.

Microsoft Build goes nuts over Xamarin’s C# and .NET for iOS and Android

Xamarin’s Miguel de Icaza was booked for a standard session room at Build, Microsoft’s developer conference in San Francisco, but the session was moved to the keynote room because of demand. I am not sure how the likely demand was calculated, but it was possibly something to do with the event app that lets attendees plan their agenda.

It was just as well that the session got moved.


The attendance at the session mirrored my observation that Xamarin’s stand in the third-party partner exhibition was drawing more attention than any other. Xamarin’s tools let developers port applications to iOS and Android while still using C# and the .NET Framework.


I am not sure what to conclude from the obvious high level of interest in compiling apps for iOS and Android. You can interpret this as good news for Microsoft, in that it keeps developers working in .NET and with easy access to the libraries that support Microsoft services; or as bad news, in that it shows how many developers are moving towards non-Microsoft platforms in their app deployments.

It was the second time today that de Icaza appeared on the keynote stage. Earlier he stood there with Anders Hejlsberg, the author of C#.


It has been a long journey, from the time when Mono (the open source implementation of .NET founded by de Icaza) was viewed with distrust by Microsoft (as far as I could tell), as an open source competitor to the official version.

Now there is talk of whether Microsoft might acquire Xamarin – of which there is no news here at Build, I should emphasise.

What does Xamarin’s success say about open source versus proprietary? Miguel de Icaza says he has never been happier


Yesterday Xamarin, which offers tools for targeting iOS, Android and Mac with C#, announced a partnership with Microsoft, an announcement which I wrote up on The Register. It drew a few comments, several complaining about the cost:

So it cost more then Visual Studio Pro.

And that is for 1 target platform?


Not so useful for little indie developers at those prices.


From open source to $999 per developer per year. Monetising Mono seems to have worked, so perhaps PCL being open sourced won’t be such a bargain either.

If you check Xamarin’s pricing you will see that the tools are not cheap for casual users; of course, if you are selling thousands of apps or developing corporate apps at normal rates the tools soon pay for themselves.

Xamarin is doing well as far as I am aware; CEO Nat Friedman told me of rapid growth in the number of customers and I have seen for myself the high interest in the tools at events like Microsoft BUILD earlier this year in San Francisco.

This gives me pause for reflection. What does the success of Xamarin, and the relative lack of success of Mono (the open source C# compiler and .NET Framework on which Xamarin is based) say about how well the open source business model works in the real world?

I was reminded of a conversation I had with Miguel de Icaza, creator of Mono and co-founder of Xamarin, Friedman back in February of this year, when Xamarin 2.0 was launched. I asked de Icaza if the new company publishes the source code for all its products?

“No. Our company does proprietary tools for iOS and Android apps. The entire iOS and Android support is proprietary as well as our commercial Mac support. All those three pieces are proprietary while the IDE and the Mono runtime are open source. Whether the code is open source or not depends on whether it is part of core Mono or core MonoDevelop. Otherwise it tends to end up as proprietary.”

Friedman added: “Mono has a thriving open source community around it, and Xamarin has a thriving community of developers who are building commercial mobile apps. We have 12,000 customers, many of them have never heard of Mono. They came to us because they had a problem to solve, they were C# developers and they wanted to get an iOS or Android app built. We solved that problem and that was worth money to them. The reason we have a business is that Microsoft developers do pay for tools, unlike Web developers for example. It’s been a great market for us. It allows us to invest.”

I asked de Icaza if he gets any grief from the open source community for having proprietary code in his company.

“Actually no. We started doing the proprietary bit at Novell. In fact we’ve been doing proprietary for a long time, even before we were acquired by Novell, at Ximian. We didn’t get a lot of grief from people. I can tell you though that when I was working in the Linux world, they were very stressful days for me, because people constantly complain about a “secret conspiracy” and that thing just went out of control. There are some advocates in the Linux world that don’t like anything that has the label Microsoft on.

“Ever since we did Xamarin which meant we focused on Mac and Windows, all that stress is gone, I don’t think I have ever been happier. In the past I was enduring this constant barrage of senseless attacks, and now I never hear about this.

“One thing that happened in the Linux world is that I was very proud of the four or five big apps that were built with Mono. F-spot that we built, Banshee, and a couple of others. Now with Xamarin I can’t keep track of them any more because they are measured in the thousands. There are thousands of very large apps, over a millions lines of code, that people send us. It’s a very different world, it’s just so much larger than all the work we did in Linux days back then.”

Miguel de Icaza: don’t blame Google for Microsoft’s contempt for developers

Xamarin’s Miguel de Icaza (founder of the Mono project) has complained on Twitter about Microsoft’s Windows Division’s “contempt for developers” when it created the Windows Runtime and a “4th incompatible Xaml stack”, in a conversation prompted by the company’s spat with Google over the YouTube app for Windows Phone. Google wants this removed because it does not show YouTube ads, to which Microsoft counters that the API for showing these ads is not available.


I am more interested in his general reflections on the wisdom (or lack of it) shown by Microsoft in creating a new platform for touch-friendly apps in Windows 8, that lacks compatibility with previous Windows frameworks. “No developer wants to build apps twice for Windows: one for desktop, one for winstore” he also remarked.

The four XAML stacks are Windows Presentation Foundation, Silverlight (for which de Icaza created a version for Linux called Moonlight), Windows Phone (which runs a slightly different version of Silverlight), and now the Windows Runtime.

Could Microsoft have done this differently, without compromising the goal of creating a new tablet personality for Windows rather than continue with doomed attempts to make the desktop touch-friendly?

The obvious answer is that it could have used more of Silverlight, which had already been adapted to a touch environment for Windows Phone. On the other hand, the Windows division was keen to support native code and HTML/JavaScript as equally capable options for Windows Runtime development. In practice, I have heard developers remark that HTML/JavaScript is better than C#/XAML for the new platform.

It is worth noting that the Windows Runtime stack is by no means entirely incompatible with what has gone before. It still uses the Windows API, although parts are not available for security reasons, and for non-visual code much of the .NET Framework works as before.

Xamarin vs Titanium vs FireMonkey: should cross-platform tools abstract the GUI?

Cross-platform development is a big deal, and will continue to be so until a day comes when everyone uses the same platform. Android? HTML? WebKit? iOS? Windows? Maybe one day, but for now the world is multi-platform, and unless you can afford to ignore all platforms but one, or to develop independent projects for each platform, some kind of cross-platform approach makes sense, especially in mobile.

Sometimes I hear it said that there are essentially two approaches to cross-platform mobile apps. You can either use an embedded browser control and write a web app wrapped as a native app, as in Adobe PhoneGap/Cordova or the similar approach taken by Sencha, or you can use a cross-platform tool that creates native apps, such as Xamarin Studio, Appcelerator Titanium, or Embarcardero FireMonkey.

Within the second category though, there is diversity. In particular, they vary concerning the extent to which they abstract the user interface.

Here is the trade-off. If you design your cross-platform framework to include user interface widgets, like labels, buttons, grids and menus, then you can have your application work almost the same way on every platform. You can also have tools that build the user interface once for all the platforms. This is a big win in terms of coding effort. If the framework is well implemented, it will still adopt some of the characteristics native to each platform so that it looks more or less native.

Some tools do this by drawing their own controls. Embarcadero FireMonkey is in this category. Another approach is to use native controls where possible (in other words, to call the API that shows a button, rather than drawing the button with the graphics API), but to use custom drawing where necessary, even sometimes implementing a control from one platform on another. The downside is that because those controls are not in fact native, there will be some differences, perhaps obvious, perhaps subtle. Martin Fowler at ThoughtWorks refers to this as the uncanny valley and argues against emulated controls.

Further, if you are sharing the UI design across all platforms, it is hard to make your design feel equally right in all cases. It might be better to take the approach adopted by most games, using a design that is distinctive to your app and make a virtue of its consistency across platforms, even though it does not have the native look and feel on any platform.

Xamarin Studio on the other hand makes no attempt to provide a shared GUI framework:

We don’t try to provide a user interface abstraction layer that works across all the platforms. We think that’s a bad approach that leads to lowest common denominator user interfaces.*

CEO Nat Friedman told me. He is right; but the downside is the effort involved in maintaining two or more user interface designs for your app.

This is an old debate. One of the reasons IBM created Eclipse was a disagreement with Sun over the best way to design a cross-platform user interface framework. Sun’s Swing framework, derived from Netscape’s Internet Foundation Classes first released in 1996, takes the custom-drawn approach, which is why Swing apps always look like Swing apps (even if you apply the “Windows” look and feel). A team from IBM, some originally from Object Technology International which was a company acquired by IBM, believed it was better to wrap native controls with a Java abstraction layer, created SWT (Standard Widget Toolkit) to do that, and used it to build Eclipse.

Personally I am wary of toolkits which rely heavily on custom-drawn controls rather than native controls, though I see their value. On the other hand, Xamarin Studio is so far in the other direction that it removes some of the benefit of a cross-platform framework.

My prediction is that Xamarin will come up with its own GUI abstraction framework in future, along the lines of SWT. It is a compromise; but one which delivers a lot of value to developers who want to create cross-platform apps with the maximum amount of shared code.

*I have never understood this use of the term “lowest common demominator”. The LCD in maths is the lowest number into which a specific group of numbers divide exactly, so it is an elegant thing. In cross-platform what you should strive for is the highest common intersection: to make available all the features common to each platform.

Update: in April 2014 Xamarin announced Xamarin Forms, a GUI framework which wraps native controls in a XAML implementation (XAML is the presentation language also used by Microsoft, for WPF, Silverlight, Windows Phone and Windows Runtime (Windows 8) apps. There is a quick hands-on here.

Xamarin 2.0 and Xamarin Studio announced, build for OSX, iOS and Android with C#

Xamarin has announced significant updates to its developer platform. Xamarin is the company formed around 18 months ago, when Novell discontinued its investment in Mono, a cross-platform implementation of C# and the .NET Framework. Its focus is on mobile platforms, in particular iOS and Android, though there is also support for the Mac. On Windows and Windows Phone, the presumption is that developers will continue to use Microsoft’s .NET Framework.

“If you look at what you can develop with C#, there’s about 1.2 billion Windows machines out there, but there’s now about a billion Android and iOS devices. Together we can make C# a universal language for application development and reach 2.2 billion devices,” Xamarin co-founder and CEO Nat Friedman told me.

“There’s a wonderful built-in audience of C# developers, millions of them, who need a bridge to mobile. We can help them take their existing skills and tools, and even code they’ve already written, and bring them to mainstream mobile platforms like iOS and Android.”

The key announcements:

  • Xamarin Studio is  an updated version of MonoDevelop, the Mono IDE. It runs on Mac and Windows.#
  • You can now develop iOS apps in Visual Studio for the first time
  • MonoTouch, the framework for iOS, has been renamed Xamarin.iOS
  • Mono for Android is now called Xamarin.Android
  • A new component store has pre-built components for download, some free, some commercial.
  • Xamarin now offers a free Starter edition, and pricing plans for independent developers, smaller businesses, and enterprises. Indie is $299 per platform per year, Business is $999 per platform/year, and Enterprise $1800 platform/year.

The Starter edition is not much use. It has a limited app size, and even the sample project I downloaded, an Employee Directory, exceeded that size and I had to register for a trial.

Xamarin’s philosophy is to share non-visual code, but to create a user interface that is native for each platform. This is a compromise in terms of the effort involved in supporting multiple platforms, but ensures a native experience on each device. “That’s fundamental to our platform,” says Friedman. “We tell our developers to separate the UI layer from the rest of the app. That allows them to share all the non-UI code across platforms, but to deliver a fully native UI, even though the whole app is written in C#. That’s what users demand now, people want native experiences.”

“We’ve been building tools that essentially project the underlying iOS APIs or Java [Android] APIs into C#”, explains co-founder Miguel de Icaza. “What it means is that people need to build a new UI for each platform.” He adds that Microsoft platform developers should be used to this, as Microsoft itself has several similar but incompatible .NET platforms. “There’s the one on Silverlight, the one on WPF, the one on Windows RT, and the one on the phone, it’s four,” he says. “Developers have had to resort to putting their logic into shared libraries, and build a per-platform UI. We’re reusing that knowledge.”

The ability to develop for iOS in Visual Studio is new. “It’s our most-requested feature of all time.” said Friedman.

I downloaded Xamarin Studio, which in my case was around 1.3GB including an updated Android SDK.


The IDE itself is clean and fast, and very much code-centric. It lacks the bloat of Visual Studio, though you will miss many of the features of Microsoft’s IDE.


I build the sample Employee Directory app and deployed it to an Android emulator which I use for Nexus 7 development. Deploying the runtime components took a long time, but after waiting patiently the app launched successfully.


If you want to do iOS development you will need a Mac of course. Although you can code on Windows, if you then the code is pushed over the the Mac side for compilation and debugging. In order to use Visual Studio, one option is to run Windows in a virtual machine on a Mac, as I have done with reasonable success using Embarcadero’s cross-platform tools.

Xamarin says it is growing fast. There have been 230,000 downloads of its tools, increasing by around 700 per day, and over 12,000 paying customers.

Despite Xamarin’s roots in the open source world (and Mono is still open source), a quick look at the pricing table shows that this is a fully commercial offering and priced accordingly. Presuming customers keep on subscribing, that is a good thing, ensuring the future of the platform; but it is not so good for the smallest developers who might otherwise give it a try.

Xamarin brings C# to development of apps for the Mac App Store

Xamarin has released Xamarin Mac which adds Mac support to the existing iOS and Android compilers from the company:

  • MonoTouch: apps for iPhone and iPad using the MonoDevelop IDE on the Mac
  • Mono for Android: apps for Android using either Visual Studio or MonoDevelop
  • Xamarin.Mac: apps for Mac OS X using MonoDevelop on the Mac

The major platforms missing from the above are Windows and Linux (unless you count Android), even though Mono began as a Linux implementation of Microsoft’s .NET platform.

Xamarin says that a Windows version is not necessary since you can use Microsoft’s tools to code in C# for Windows desktop and Windows phone.

You can also get Mono for Windows, Mac and Linux from the old Mono project site.

Why would you bother with paid-for Xamarin.Mac when you can get Mono for Mac as a free download? There is even a Mac packager which lets you create a standalone package for your Mono app. A good question, but I guess the answer is the benefit of Xamarin-specific libraries and support from the company. Xamarin has also done the work to ensure that you can distribute your app via the Mac App Store.

Xamarin.Mac costs $399 for personal use, or $999 for an enterprise license which allows internal as well as app store distribution. A one year, one seat license with priority support costs $2,499.

Xamarin knows how to charge then, and in the end that may be a key reason why the project is working, whereas Mono struggled as an open source project that never had the resources it deserved.

The Mono Project site now says that it is “sponsored by Xamarin” so open source developers are getting some benefit from the commercial offshoot.

Xamarin is important for the C# language, since it represents a viable implementation which is independent of Microsoft.

Miguel de Icaza talks about Windows 8 and the failure of Linux on the desktop

At Microsoft BUILD earlier this month I arrived early to hear Anders Hejlsberg talk about the future of C#, and found myself next to Miguel de Icaza, co-creator of the GNOME desktop and of Mono, the open source implementation of Microsoft .NET. I took the opportunity to ask a few questions, which I have his permission to post.

I recall that when .NET was first announced in 2000, it was not long before de Icaza announced Mono. I was interested therefore to know his reaction to Windows 8 and the new Window Runtime which powers “Metro-style” apps. Will we get an open source implementation of Metro-style on Linux?

I don’t think so. To be honest, with Linux on the desktop, the benefits of open source have really played against Linux on the desktop in that we keep breaking things. It is not only incompatibilities between Red Hat, Unbuntu, Suse, but even between the same distribution.  Ubuntu from this week is incompatible with the one nine months ago. And then there are multiple editions, the KDE version, the Gnome edition, the one that is the new launching system.

When you count how many great desktop apps there are on Linux, you can probably name 10. You work really hard, you can probably name 20. We’ve managed to piss off developers every step of the way, breaking APIs all the time.

I’m heartbroken, that’s the bottom line.

What about compiling your Metro app for iOS or Android?

I think that Linux has a tough time on the desktop. And the desktop is starting to not matter any more. On the other hand, building WinRT is going to be a significant amount of work. A large chunk probably could be reused from Moonlight. But it is a lot of work, to be able to reuse existing Windows apps, and in the case of iOS they already have their own stack, and Mac has its own, Cocoa is really nice and we have .NET bindings for it.

So I think we’ll learn interesting lessons from Metro. There is stuff that will be useful on other platforms like the JSON reader. But I’m not going to spend any time on WinRT for other systems.

And we can speculate about how well Metro will work in the market …

They are Microsoft, it’s going to succeed. In three years they are going to have this thing on half a billion computers, so it will be out there.

It seems like they are going to use their muscle for two things. It’s going to be a tempting space [for developers], but if you want to go into the right distribution channel for that half a billion computers, you need to abide by the Metro guidelines. They are not going to give you full API access, they are going to give you the sandboxed version. Which is good, because it can finally fix the security problems on Windows. They are going to use their muscle to reset the rules for Windows.

Especially on ARM

Right, and it is needed, they definitely need to fix this mess, a lot of malware, spyware, and the fact that everybody is sysadmin, and has to reinstall their machine every so often.

I’ve heard the word “safe” a number of times.

Right, and think of an iPad, you don’t need to be a sysadmin.

Now, you could argue that by WPF not being available to everybody and being bound to .NET they limited the effect WPF would have had, whereas Metro gives this to C++ developers, but they’re saying, hey, you can’t call Win32, there is all the Win32 stuff you can’t call. You have to use Metro. So they might be repeating that [mistake], but maybe it’s eclipsed by the fact that there’s going to be a rush to the app store. It seems like there is a big enough carrot now.

How are you getting on with the Windows 8 tablet?

I have to say, I actually like Windows 8. I am not a Windows user. It’s probably the first time that I would use a Windows machine.

Miguel de Icaza is now at Xamarin, providing cross-platform tools for using C# and .NET to build apps for Apple iOS and Google Android.

Google Native Client: browser apps unleashed, or misconceived and likely to fail?

Last week Google integrated Native Client into the beta of Chrome 14. Native client lets you compile C/C++ code to run in the browser. It depends on a new plug-in API called Pepper. These are open source projects sponsored by Google and implemented in the Chrome browser, and therefore also likely to turn up in Chrome OS which is an operating system in which all apps run in the browser.

Native Client is cool. For example, NaCLBox lets you run old DOS games in the browser by porting DOSBox to Native Client.


Another project is Qt for Google Native Client, a project currently in development. Qt is an excellent and popular GUI and application framework which would speed development of Native Client apps as well as enabling many existing applications to be ported.

It is also worth mentioning that Native Client provides another way to run .NET code in the browser, via Mono with NaCl support.

Why Native Client? Google’s vision, or at least the part of it that focuses on Chrome OS rather than Android, is that everything runs on the Internet and in the browser, making the local operating system unimportant and easily replaced. Native Client removes any performance compromises in managed languages such as JavaScript, ActionScript or Java, as well as easing migration for businesses with existing C/C++ code.

Writing native code for the browser is nothing new. Both Microsoft’s ActiveX and the NPAPI plug-in API used by non-Microsoft browsers let you extend the browser with native code. However Native Client is seamless for the user; you do not have to install any additional plug-in. The main limitation is that Native Client applets do not have access to the local operating system, for security reasons.

It is also worth noting that Native Client apps are not altogether cross-platform. They must be recompiled for different CPU instruction sets, with the current implementation supporting x86 and ARM though you have to compile two binaries. Google says it will support LLVM output to enable cross-platform binaries though this will impact performance.

But is Native Client secure? That is an open question. Google was aware of the security challenge from the beginning of the project. Unlike the plug-in mechanisms which rely mainly on trust in developer competence and signed code to verify the origin of the plug-in or ActiveX control, Native Client inspects the actual code for unsafe instructions before allowing it to run. There is also an “outer sandbox” which intercepts system calls.

However, adding any new way for code to run makes the browser less secure. Google ran a Native Client Security Contest to help identify vulnerabilities, and the contestants did not have any problem finding security flaws. Of course all of these discovered flaws will have been fixed, but there may be others and likely will be.

And is Native Client necessary? The latest JIT-compiled JavaScript engines are fast enough to enable most types of application to run at a satisfactory speed. This is not just about performance though; it is about reusing existing skills, libraries and applications. There is no doubt that Native Client is nice to have; whether its benefits outweigh the risks is harder to judge.

The last question, which may prove the most significant, is political. Google has forged ahead on its own with Native Client, saying as vendors always do that it hopes it will become a web standard. In the early days of the project, it looked like a Native Client plug-in might enable the feature in other browsers, but abandoning NPAPI for Pepper makes this difficult. Will other browser vendors support Native Client?

Here is a comment from Google’s Ian NI-Lewis that I find remarkable:

As you probably know, the rule in Web standards is "implementation wins." So we’re concentrating on getting a good quality implementation out the door. We’re doing that in Chrome. That doesn’t mean that NaCl is intended to be "Chrome only," just that we have to start somewhere.

So Native Client is non-standard, and therefore less interesting than HTML 5 until either Google has a Microsoft-Office-like de facto monopoly of web browsers, or it persuades Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple to support it.

That said, you can think of Chrome as an installable runtime in the same way as the Java Virtual Machine or Adobe Flash, just a potentially more intrusive one. Here is our app, you have to install the free Chrome browser to use it. If this happens to any great extent, I can foresee other browser makers hastening to support it.

The strategy behind Mono has shifted: ten years of open source .NET

Yesterday, SUSE and Xamarin announced, in effect, the transfer of all things Mono to Xamarin.

The agreement grants Xamarin a broad, perpetual license to all intellectual property covering Mono, MonoTouch, Mono for Android and Mono Tools for Visual Studio. Xamarin will also provide technical support to SUSE customers using Mono-based products, and assume stewardship of the Mono open source community project.

Xamarin is a startup formed by Mono founder Miguel de Icaza following the acquisition of Novell and SUSE by Attachmate, which ceased Mono development.

Attachmate acquired Novell in November 2010. Mono has been plucked from the abyss with impressive speed.

That said, the strategy behind Mono has shifted. Mono exists because de Icaza liked what Microsoft announced back in 2000 when it introduced C# and the .NET Framework. Microsoft made a show of standardizing the .NET CLI (Common Language Infrastructure), which made PR sense at the time since there was controversy over Sun’s ownership of Java, though nobody really believed that Microsoft knew how to steward an open source development platform or indeed believed that it was really serious about it. History largely justifies that scepticism; but de Icaza called Microsoft’s bluff and forged ahead with Mono, implementing not only the CLI and C# but most of the .NET Framework as well.

The goal of Mono, as I recall, was to bring the benefits of C# and .NET to Linux developers, and to enable developers to move applications freely between Windows and Linux. Apple OS X was also on the radar, though it took longer to become much use. Recalling Mono’s early days, de Icaza said:

Mono to me is a means to an end: a technology to help Linux succeed on the desktop.

Mono worked remarkably well from quite early on, but never quite well enough to persuade mainstream developers it was a sensible choice for applications that would otherwise have run on Windows. It did emerge as a viable and productive toolset and platform for Linux and a number of Mono applications became popular, including Beagle search, Tomboy notes, and F-Spot photo management. Some ASP.NET applications run on Mono; I have one on this site. Another Mono success was its use as the scripting engine in Unity, a game development platform.

A big problem for Mono though was the lack of a business model. There was support and servicing of course, which must have generated some revenue for Novell, but most Mono use is free. Novell possibly had in mind that Mono could be significant as an application server, but it has never become a really trusted platform in the Enterprise. For example, as Alan Radding (Dancing Dinosaur) notes:

DancingDinosaur has not found any SUSE on z user that has successfully implemented .NET apps on the mainframe. A few have tried but reported that Mono on z wasn’t ready for prime time.

Even among the free software and open source community, Mono was hampered by suspicion of Microsoft. If Mono became successful enough to threaten Microsoft, would lawyers appear? Given the way Microsoft is currently behaving with Android, filing legal actions and signing up licensees, those fears might not be unwarranted.

So what is Mono today? The answer is that Mono is now primarily a mobile platform. The Xamarin home page makes this clear, as well as making it apparent that the Mono team has discovered the value of a business model:


Xamarin is tapping into two real business needs. One is the need for a cross-platform mobile development platform that works. The second is a way for Windows developers to use their existing C# skills for mobile development, given that they might not be happy with the tiny market share currently achieved by Windows Phone 7.

When I had a quick try with Monotouch I was impressed, and I would like to spend some more time with it and with Mono for Android.

Mono has touch competition though. In particular, PhoneGap, Appcelerator’s Titanium, and Adobe AIR. I was interested to see that Adobe is coming up with a packager for AIR on Android, which may significantly improve it as a cross-platform mobile toolkit.

Still, Xamarin is small and nimble and I expect it to succeed. It has also has Visual Studio integration, which is an advantage. One of the pieces Xamarin has now licensed from SUSE is Mono for Visual Studio.

The downside of these latest developments is that if you depend on Mono for the desktop or for ASP.NET, you may find these parts of the Mono project getting little attention from the new company. But Mobile is all that matters now, right?

I write this on July 19 2011. According to Wikipedia:

Recognizing that their small team could not expect to build and support a full product, they launched the Mono open source project, on July 19, 2001 at the O’Reilly conference.

Well, if there was a launch there it was low-key. It is not mentioned in this report. But de Icaza does recall:

We planned the announcement to come by July 19th 2001, so we could announce this at the O’Reilly conference, as Tim O’Reilly had been very supportive of this effort, and had offered his help since the early stages, when it was still a very young idea. When we announced the project launch we had our team in place, and we were shipping our metadata framework and our C# compiler as well as a few initial classes So officially the Mono project was launched on that date, but it had been brewing for a very long time.

Happy Anniversary!