Novell tool opens iPhone to .Net developers

MonoTouch lets .Net developers build applications that meet Apple's requirements for the iPhone

Craig Dunn's MonoTouch MapKit iPhone application

Craig Dunn's MonoTouch MapKit iPhone application

More applications for enterprise users may become available for the iPhone with a new developer tool from Novell.

The MonoTouch software development kit lets developers write an application using .Net and then produces a native iPhone-compatible application. "It enables .Net developers to target the iPhone," said Joseph Hill, product manager for Mono at Novell.

Currently, developers write in Objective-C, a language that is not otherwise widely used, to build applications that comply with Apple's requirements for the iPhone.

"What this does is bring a different kind of developer who might have been trying to figure out how to leverage the iPhone but didn't have the skills or didn't want to engage in a unique development environment," said Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC.

Since .Net is widely used in the enterprise and by enterprise application developers, MonoTouch could encourage more iPhone programs geared toward business users.

MonoTouch includes software that looks similar to Visual Studio, which .Net developers are familiar with and runs on the Mac.

"That will enable them to get the experience they should be comfortable with and integrates into the tool chain we've built," Hill said.

Novell has heard a lot of interest in this type of tool from enterprise developers who would like to extend applications to workers with iPhones but who have found that the investment in the skills to develop for the iPhone has been too high, he said.

But since a growing number of enterprises don't have many in-house development resources, it's more likely that ISVs (independent software vendors) will be interested in using MonoTouch, Hilwa said.

"ISVs who are built around Mono or .Net will find it more interesting because they worry a lot about the cost of development or maintenance," he said. "Some haven't jumped into the iPhone fray and might now."

Novell did not work with Apple to develop the product but doesn't anticipate that the company will have any issue with it, Hill said.

Hilwa also expects the iPhone maker won't have a problem with MonoTouch but "Apple is unpredictable" so it's uncertain, he said.

Beyond the enterprise, game developers may be even more interested in MonoTouch, Hilwa said. Mono, the Novell tool that lets developers write applications that can run across multiple platforms, is already fairly popular in the gaming market, he said.

"These people will find it appealing to go to the iPhone with the same code base," he said.

For individual developers, MonoTouch costs US$399 for a one year subscription. The enterprise edition costs $999 and an enterprise edition that supports five concurrent users runs for $3,999.

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