November 08, 2011, 11:24 AM — The fate of Mono within default installations of Ubuntu is up in the air, after the Ubuntu development team seems to have decided to exclude the Banshee music application from the next release of Ubuntu. Various sources are reporting that Mono will also be kicked off the installation CD, too.
Banshee is dependent on Mono, the open source implementation of Microsoft's .NET framework, to operate. According to the Ubuntu Developer Summit session logs cited by Banshee and Mono developer Joseph Michael Shields, the decision to drop Banshee was reached in the Default Apps session of UDS.
Shields cites the reasons for the change as "'Banshee not well maintained' and 'porting music store to GTK3 is blocked on banshee ported to GTK3.' Other reasons mentioned but not in the session logs are complaints that it doesn't work on ARM."
In a blog entry entitled "Bansheegeddon," Shields details his objections to the decision to exclude Banshee, presumably in favor of the Rhythmbox music application. Banshee, Shields insists, works fine on the ARM platform, because Mono works on ARM. Banshee is still a GTK+2 app, Shields admits, but he raises strong objections to the remarks made at UDS about the quality of Banshee development.
"As for the final point, that Banshee is not well maintained, this seems like a directed personal insult against the active and responsive Banshee maintainer, Chow Loong Jin, and upstream bug triager David Nielsen, in addition to the immeasurable hours contributed free of charge for the benefit of Ubuntu users by various other members of related Mono app and library teams, including myself."
The removal of Banshee from upcoming default releases of Ubuntu immediately raised speculation about the inclusion of Mono within Ubuntu as well. Banshee is one of the primary reasons Mono is thrown into Ubuntu, and without Banshee, the need for Mono diminishes sharply.
Tomboy, a desktop note-taking application and Gbrainy, a "brain teaser game and trainer," are also dependent on Mono and Ubuntu developers have apparently opted to drop them, too. This has been coming for a while, it seems: F-Spot, a Mono-based image organization application, was the default app in this category for Ubuntu until it was replaced by Shotwell as of Ubuntu 10.10 last year.
Updated: It must be noted that the decision to drop Banshee, Mono, or the other apps is not finalized, according to Ubuntu Community Manager Jono Bacon. Bacon clarified the issue in a blog entry today.
The speculation on the exclusion of Mono for Ubuntu seems fair, particularly from an engineering standpoint. After all, if Banshee is dropped, then it's extra software baggage, get rid of it. But the blogosphere is also lighting up with speculation that this may be a deliberate move to exclude Mono precisely because of its emulation of Microsoft .NET.
Initially, I rolled my eyes at this sort of conjecture, because it's the kind of anti-Microsoft stuff that we heard from Boycott Novell (now TechRights) when Novell and Microsoft partnered in 2006. Indeed, TechRights seems to have started the speculation on Friday.
But on further examination, I began to wonder if that might not be part of the reason to start crowding Mono out of default Ubuntu releases. Ubuntu, we have learned, is about to push hard in the mobile space. And mobile space, we all know, is where insane patent trolls lurk to sue the bejeezus out of any new threat to market dominance.
While it is very easy to assume a cavalier attitude about legal threats against Mono in the desktop arena, is it really that overcautious to keep Mono at arm's length based on past litigious activity in the mobile channels?
Maybe. But leaving any conspiracy theories aside, there's Mono's former ties with Novell, Attachmate, and SUSE Linux and its current ties with start-up Xamarin to consider. In other words, Not Canonical. And given Canonical's occasional tendency not to Play Well with Others, the exclusion of Mono could just be Canonical shaking out third-party technology before it jumps to a potentially big revenue maker.
That Not Playing Well with Others meme may seem unfair, but beyond the big-picture fate of Mono on Ubuntu, the decision to drop Banshee would raise some questions about how Canonical deals with community. Shields has strong feelings how this decision came about, not just why:
"Significant accommodations were made by Banshee upstream in order to make life easier for Canonical to integrate Banshee into their OS. For one thing, that's why the Ubuntu One Music Store support is a core Banshee feature, not part of the third-party community extensions package. If Banshee was being considered for replacement due to unresolved technical issues, then perhaps it would have been polite to, I don't know, inform upstream that it was on the cards?"
It was a lack of ceremony, indeed the lack of direct communication about the fate of Banshee, that angered Shields the most:
"And here's where it gets more astonishing for me--Canonical paid money to ship one of the community-based packagers responsible for the stack, Iain Lane, to Orlando for UDS, and didn't think it was worth bothering to perhaps inform him 'hey, the stuff you work on is in danger of being axed from the default install, maybe you should go to this session.'"
If that was indeed the sequence of events, and Banshee is dropped, then Canonical may have to undo some damage in their bumpy relations with upstream developers. If Canonical wants to succeed on mobile platforms, bad karma with upstream developers is the last thing they need.
Update: In his blog, Bacon's main point was that with the advent of tools like the Ubuntu Software Center, what's included on the installation CD matters less and less. The availability of so many apps post-installtion makes for a richer distribution, Bacon writes:
"I am not trying to downplay the importance of the default apps discussion--it is important, and we should handle these discussions with professionalism and accuracy in making those decisions--but let’s not forget that there is a wealth of incredible content available in the rest of the commons too."
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