Oracle and Google are currently in a $1 billion wrestling match over Google’s use of Java in Android.
But Java is not the only way to build native apps on Android. In fact, it’s not even the best way: we have been offering C# to Android developers as a high-performance, low-battery consuming alternative to Java. Our platform, Mono, is an open source implementation of the .NET framework that allows developers to write their code using C# while running on top of the Java-powered operating system, and then share that same code with iOS and Windows Phone.
Unlike Sun with Java, Microsoft submitted C# and the .NET VM for standardization to ECMA and saw those standards graduated all the way to ISO strong patent commitments. The .NET framework is also covered by Microsoft’s legally binding community promise.
Last July when Xamarin was getting started, we got our team together in Boston to plan the evolution of Mono on iOS and Android. After a day of kayaking in the Charles River, we sat down to dinner and turned our attention to how we could improve the performance and battery life of applications on Android, and make our own Mono for Android even better.
Over and over we came back to the basics: 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. One crazy idea that the team had at that dinner was to translate Android’s source code to C#. Android would benefit from C# performance features like structures, P/Invoke, real generics and our more mature runtime.
Although nothing happened back in July, this idea stuck in the back of our minds.
Fast forward a few months: Mono for Android is doing great, and we are starting to think again about improving our own product’s performance on Android. 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?
We decided it was crazy enough to try. So we started a small skunkworks project with the goal of doing a machine translation of Android from Java to C#. We called this project XobotOS.
The XobotOS Research Project
The result of our efforts is that today we have most of Android’s layouts and controls entirely in C#. Here are some screenshots of XobotOS running on a Linux workstation, no Java involved:
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