Happenings: Qt Developer Days 2009
by Adrian Bridgwater
After an eventful if not turbulent last twelve months in the history of the Qt cross platform C++ GUI tool kit, the technology now resides within the corporate acquisition underbelly of Nokia’s many-chambered stomach. Within this same time frame, Nokia’s corporate manoeuvring has also seen Qt pushed to an LGPL distribution. Where the balance now sits in terms of proprietary technology self-interest versus open source altruism may be open to question for those new to the company.
During Qt’s annual Developer Days conference and exhibition in Munich this October, the company formerly known as Trolltech shared an authentically genuine representation of itself and arguably did enough to affirm its commitment to better code usability for all developers using its products. Despite the obvious presence of Nokia's higher level branding upon Qt, the employees clearly felt most comfortable referring to themselves as Trolls from Trolltech. Not only was the "Ask a Troll" option offered for all technical Q&A points, all staff members were adorned with Troll T-shirts which they picked up at the Troll wardrobe upon arrival.
The company’s official themes for this event may have been ‘excellence and performance’, but most attendees were evidently more interested in finding out whether the core elements of the Qt toolkit have actually been improved, given their recent transitional journey.
As well as the customary keynotes and opening plenary sessions, there were over two days of technical sessions, hands on labs and demos to gorge on. Topics covered included ‘Optimising Performance in Qt Applications’ and ‘Qt on Maemo’ – especially relevant given recent news of the Qt port to Maemo. Also drawing the crowds were the somewhat generically named ‘Nokia Qt and the Internet’ session and the various elements of the ‘Qt in Use’ track. In all, over twenty technical sessions, demos and hands-on labs were on offer.
While breaking news may have been somewhat thin on the ground, there was plenty of time to hear more about where Qt is now since Qt 4.5 a year back. Qt Creator is now playing the role of a cross-platform IDE in the way it should do, the Qt Mobility Project is allegedly helping developers widen the variety of devices they can cater for, by virtue of an extended set of APIs, there’s Qt for QNX and VxWorks if you want to work inside a real-time operating system (RTOS) environment - and if all that wasn’t enough, you can get Qt support for Windows 7, Symbian and OS X Snow Leopard.
This all sounds good on paper and looks fairly impressive presented in HTML too, but what do the customers really think of Qt’s progression and do they trust the undercurrents that are now pulling the technology forward in the widest possible sense? The H spoke to Nordic IT services player Tieto, one of Qt’s longest standing customers and partners. Mikael Carlsson, head of business development, mobile devices, Tieto said “We have worked very closely with Qt over the last five years and in the last two years this has almost approached a mission-critical level in some senses. Nokia’s ownership of Qt has been a large part of the reason for our increased engagement and use of the toolkit. There is logically an increase in potential volume here as the number of devices Qt may touch now reaches the millions”.
“But at the same time as the Nokia name making a difference, the fact that development of Qt has moved to the LGPL is also crucial as this adds so substantially to the sheer number of developers who will help develop the technology at any given time. More eyes on the code means, on balance, less errors in the long term and this is the way that trust is built into products at the consumer end,” added Carlsson.
Hard core developer and consultancy customers were certainly interested in the hard facts and Qt chief Sebastian Nyström was keen to underline them. In the last year there has been a 250 per cent increase in downloads of Qt under the new LGPL licensing model. During this same period, a total of 400 contributions were made to the qt.gitorious.org open source repository in the form of patches and submissions. The company did not qualify the size, importance or worth of these submissions, but one imagines that within the total there is plenty of substance.