Why I agree with RMS concerning Mono

I’ve been listening to the conversations about Mono since this summer. I was waiting for the dust to settle before I started re-reading the various comments but the dust is not settling and the protagonists of the summer name-calling-fest are still busy pointing fingers at Richard Stallman for stating his opinion.

Stallman’s position is pretty clear to me: he is afraid that software patents can kill the work of his life, depriving users of the digital freedom that he and the FSF have been promoting in the past 25 years. His reasoning is very logic, as usual:
1) software patents are a threat to free as in freedom software
2) Mono uses patented techniques, patents held by Microsoft
3) Microsoft’s business model is incompatible with free as in freedom software and recent behaviour confirm that Microsoft uses software patents to attack free software.

Given these premises, RMS concludes that Mono is not a safe framework to develop applications on. I’ve read and agree with most of the poins made by the Ubuntu Technical Board and Dave Neary. In other circumstances I would have agreed with him also on this one:

I fundamentally disagree with discouraging someone from pursuing a technology choice because of the threat of patents.

Except that this time it’s not a generic technology that we’re talking about. It’s Microsoft. With them we can’t be friends unless proven wrong, it must be the other way around: Microsoft has a history of misbehaviour and of abuses. Microsoft needs to demonstrate that they’re worth being trusted. They made a step forward adding a promise not to sue on C# and CLI. But they must do more, much more in that direction before the free software community can feel safe.

I hope that the name-calling stops on all sides. I became very sad reading the offense thrown at Suse/Novell developers. I hope also that proponents of Mono will understand that the issue is not how good C# and Mono is but how trustworthy Microsoft is. Mono proponents need to convince their friends at Microsoft to change their attitude towards free software, release information to reach interoperability under copyleft compatible terms and stop abusing of the patents system. I think that this is what the free software community really needs.