I was surprised by the announcement that Silverlight is being ported to Intel’s Moblin Linux, which I’ve already reported both here and on The Register. It feels like a u-turn from Microsoft, which had previously stated that while it would build Silverlight for both Windows and Mac, Linux support was to be done by Novell. This is from the 2007 press release:
Microsoft will work with Novell Inc. to deliver Silverlight support for Linux, called Moonlight, and based on the project started on mono-project.com … Microsoft is committed to ensuring that organizations have the best tools and resources to begin building Silverlight-based solutions with the broadest possible reach. The decision to work with Novell to offer Silverlight support for the Linux platform is in direct response to customer feedback, and both companies are optimistic about the impact this extended partnership will have in the industry.
Now, given that Microsoft has long expressed an intention to bring Silverlight to mobile devices, and that many mobile devices run some variety of Linux, you can argue that the Moblin announcement is merely in line with that strategy. This is what Brian Goldfarb told me – that the Intel deal is in the “mobile device” category, and therefore distinct from the work with Mono.
That said, if you look at the specs for something like Dell’s Mini 10v with Moblin – 1.6Ghz Atom CPU, 160GB hard drive, 1GB RAM, 10.1" 1024×600 display – it really has more in common with a traditional laptop than with, say, a mobile phone. Further, I’m getting the impression that this will be a full Silverlight 3.0 implementation, not a cut-down version like Flash Lite, complete with the Silverlight version of the .NET Framework.
If Microsoft had announced this kind of deal in the early days of Silverlight, it would have have been encouraging for open source advocates. Even though this Silverlight for Moblin is not an open source project, it extends support for a key Microsoft technology to Linux users. Silverlight developers may well prefer that the same code will be running on Moblin as on Windows or Mac, subject to whatever has to be done to make the port work.
Unfortunately at this point the announcement is having an opposite effect, casting doubt on Microsoft’s ability to work with open source partners. The impression is that Mono was a useful means of ticking the Linux box for Silverlight’s launch – though the version which includes .NET is still not complete – but that when it really wants to support a Linux OS, Microsoft is quick to find another route.
It is stating the obvious to say that the open source community is wary of Microsoft. Everything the company does is eyed with suspicion. Microsoft’s official support for Moonlight, along with great work from people like John Lam who works on IronRuby, was beginning to soften some of that hostility. Miguel de Icaza, leader of the Mono project, has been a great bridgebuilder between Microsoft and the open source community – so much so, that Richard Stallman recently called him “basically a traitor to the free software community”. Stallman has done his cause no credit with this remark. “I think we officially hit a new low here”, says OS news.
A terrible moment then for Microsoft to snub Moonlight by doing its own thing with Intel for Silverlight on Linux. What was even more striking is that the company seemingly had no idea of the impact of its announcement, and that it might be a sensitive matter, and apparently did nothing to prepare the Mono team in advance for the obvious questions that would be asked.
What is more important – that Silverlight works smoothly on Moblin, or Microsoft’s relationship with the open source community?