Qt’s Move Gives FOSS the Jitters

There’s been much ado about Linux desktops in recent months, but few would dispute KDE’s prominence among them.

That, indeed, is one of the many reasons there’s been so much concern over Nokia’s impending sale of the Qt toolkit, upon which KDE is based.

“There is no question that Qt will continue to be actively developed on some level regardless of what Nokia chooses to do with the assets,” wrote Ars Technica’s Ryan Paul early this month, for example. “There are a number of risks, however.

“Without Nokia’s leadership and investment, the toolkit could become fragmented (if a major stakeholder like RIM decides to fork the toolkit, for example) or development could slow down,” Paul noted.

‘Responsible for All Qt Activities’

Last week, however, brought some potentially good news for the open source community when it was announced that the technology was being purchased by Finnish software firm Digia.

“Digia has signed an agreement to acquire Qt software technologies and Qt business from Nokia,” the company announced on Thursday. “Following the acquisition Digia becomes responsible for all the Qt activities formerly carried out by Nokia. These include product development, as well as the commercial and open source licensing and service business.

“Digia plans to quickly enable Qt on Android, iOS and Windows 8 platforms,” the company added.

The question on many bloggers’ minds now is whether the move will be a good one for Qt and KDE.

‘Nokia Shot Itself in the Foot’

“It really is a shame that Qt has languished in relative obscurity for so many years,” mused blogger CAIMLAS on Slashdot, for example. “It really is a great toolkit (and I say that as a non-programmer who has only dabbled with it).

“It’s relatively simple, consistent, and has a large number of Windows-like constructor tools,” CAIMLAS added. “It can be easily bound with many different other languages to construct a working program in a fairly short period of time. It’s cross platform, running on everything. The CPU overhead is relatively negligible.”

Nokia, meanwhile, “has really shot itself in the foot,” opined blogger Gravis Zero. “They could have pushed the porting effort to get Qt on Android and then get a nice native app ecosystem going but instead they went the (classically) shortsighted take-the-money route with Microsoft.

“Now they are stuck with this burden called Windows 8 Phone which is on a whooping 4 percent of cell phones,” Gravis Zero added.

‘A Good Thing’

Others, meanwhile, were optimistic about Qt’s new future.

“This is a good thing,” wrote Anonymous Coward, for instance. “The best thing for Qt is for it to be owned by someone whose business depends on it.

“I worked for a firm that, for legal reasons, had a commercial license from Digia, and I attended the Qt Dev Days in SF in 2011,” Anonymous Coward explained. “I was impressed with what I saw. Digia seemed like a good company. I hope they can make a go of it.”

‘Stability Is Important’

Down on the streets of the blogosphere’s main downtown, Linux Girl encountered a variety of opinions.

“I think this is a great development,” opined Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien, for example.

“First, it gives Qt the stability of support by a company, which should give it the resources to move forward,” O’Brien explained.

“Second, Digia made a point of reaching out to the KDE community when they made the purchase,” he added. “At a time when KDE is moving into a dominant position, this stability is important.”

‘A Serious Risk’

“It is good that Qt has been passed on rather than just dropped,” agreed consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack. “Hopefully development will continue without much interruption.”

Indeed, “considering [Digia] has already made several products with the framework, it’s a good fit,” concurred Slashdot blogger hairyfeet. “I just hope they didn’t bite off more than they can chew.

“Taking on more debt and a bunch of new employees can be risky at the best of times, but in a down economy it is a serious risk,” hairyfeet pointed out. “Hopefully they have a way to monetize Qt so they can stay afloat.”

Meanwhile, “I hope the FOSS community remembers there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch and supports Digia by buying their products,” he added. “Remember folks, devs gotta eat too.”

‘A Partner of M$’

Last but not least, however, blogger Robert Pogson saw reason for concern.

“Qt was important for my first experience with GNU/Linux more than a decade ago, and many of my favorite applications currently use Qt,” Pogson told Linux Girl. “It is stressful when this key technology changes hands, but Nokia has chosen a different path, and Digia appears sincere in its efforts to strengthen and to improve the technology.”

Unfortunately, “Digia is a ‘partner’ of M$,” Pogson pointed out. “I expect M$ will miss no opportunity to persuade Digia to sideline GNU/Linux. M$ has a long history of using all means fair and foul to promote itself.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


  • "There’s been much ado about Linux desktops in recent months, but few would dispute KDE’s prominence AM ong them."

    If by "prominence" you mean "one of the most important ones", then you’re right. If by prominence you mean "the" most important one, I’m afraid I do dispute the claim.

    Name the most used Linux distro (not the top Distrowatch one). Now name what’s the desktop that distro offers by default. Bingo.

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