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Xamarin's port of Android to Microsoft's C#: Five questions (and answers)

| Sunday, May 6, 2012
Xamarin, the folks that created the Mono open-source implementation of Microsoft’s .NET framework, are at it again. This time, they’ve managed to port parts of Android to Microsoft’s C# language.

This skunkworks project, known as XobotOS, was born in interesting times, given the Oracle vs. Google lawsuit over Java and Android. (Remember Google co-founder Larry Page’s statement from back in 2005 that if Sun didn’t want to work with Google, it had two choices: Adopt Microsoft’s Common Language Runtime VM and C#; or “Do Java anyway”?) It’s also interesting given Microsoft’s latest strategy involving threatening convincing more and more Android OEMs to pay Redmond patent licensing royalties due to alleged infringement of Android on unnamed Microsoft patented code.

Xamarin founder Miguel de Icaza announced the release of XobotOS on github earlier this week. He said that the team managed to port most of Android’s layouts and controls entirely in C# using a Xamarin-enhanced version of the Sharpen machine-translation tool.

“Over and over we came back to the basics: (Android’s) Dalvik is a young virtual machine, it is not as performant or tuned as Mono and suffers from many of Java’s performance limitations without the benefit of the high-end optimizations from Oracle’s HotSpot,” de Icaza blogged. “What if we could swap out Java with faster C# and get rid of various Dalvik limitations in the process? Could we create an Android phone completely free of Java, and free of the limitations of the Dalvik VM?”

While Xamarin isn’t going to focus on further and selling Xobotos, de Icaza and team are still interested in seeing where this experiment goes.

I had a chance to ask de Icaza a few questions about XobotOS this week via e-mail. Here’s our exchange:

Q: Who do you see as the potential audience/customers for XobotOS? Current Android device makers?

A: The main benefit is going to be customers of both our Mono for Android and Mono for iOS products. In the Android case, because we will be able to replace slow code running in Java, with code that runs on the faster VM, with better optimizations and is not held back by Java’s design. In the iOS case, because we will be able to bring some useful code from Android to iOS.

We do not have plans to turn XobotOS itself into a complete competitor to Android. XobotOS is a research project.   Usually in the industry the metric is that it takes 10 times effort to turn program or research prototypes into products.

Telcos and OEMs would also have to think about the established user base, and how they could roll something like this out. Judging by the trouble everyone but Apple has rolling out OS updates, I do not believe they are ready to take on a new stack.

Read more: ZDNet
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