In association with heise online

Pick a library, any library

One of the strengths of the BlackBerry 10 platform for developers is the wide range of development strategies they can choose from and RIM's open source approach makes that even wider; again, being close to the WebKit trunk simplifies this, says Tim Neil, because it helps with both tools and libraries, internally and for third-party developers. On the one hand, RIM is developing the BBUI library for getting the exact look and feel of Cascades apps but in CSS and JavaScript; "we do a lot of experimentation to make that work and push the browser into places where it dare not go," says Neil, and the results of that experimentation are fed back into WebKit with RIM's code contributions. On the other hand, if developers want to use a different library, RIM wants that to work on BlackBerry 10.

BlackBerry 10 "What is the right toolkit to use? Remove that question from your vocabulary. It's like going into a room of people and telling them what the best religion is going to be. It's about choice and having the developer be able to choose the toolkit they want. It's about embracing the differences of all the toolkits out there and making sure we've got a great platform to run them really fast. The idea is that when developers choose which library they want to use, BlackBerry will be there. Your end user and customer could care less what technology something is written in, if they're getting a great experience. We want great BlackBerry 10 apps and your journey to get there is up to how you want to do it."

That's certainly a contrast to the locked-down approach of iOS, Windows Phone and increasingly Windows 8 (with the WinRT runtime, which encourages developers to pick a single coding style and a single way of achieving results in the name of architectural hygiene).

But this "anything goes" attitude could make this another area where RIM is likely to feel the strain of truly participating in open source and Pelegri Llopart sounds a note of caution. "We still have to be very careful about headcount and resources and time. Our priorities are getting BlackBerry 10 out and developers writing apps."

In February, he hoped that, having ported the Cocos2d-x gaming engine to PlayBook and given the code to the lead developer, the community would take it over but version 2 didn't support BlackBerry. "We had to help them go do that and now 2.1 supports BlackBerry. Until we have the BlackBerry 10 devices out there in volume we will have to continue to support those things happening," he adds philosophically. "We're still trying to have the main upstream communities have the ports and I think it's working fairly well."

A "tier one" Qt platform

Qt RIM's involvement in Qt is particularly interesting. RIM wants BlackBerry 10 to become a "tier one" Qt platform along with Windows, OS X, Linux, Solaris and embedded platforms like QNX Neutrino. That would mean a new version of Qt wouldn't come out until it was compatible with BlackBerry 10; getting that kind of support means making significant commitments to the Qt project and RIM seems committed to doing that for Qt 5, with little coding left to do (most of the remaining work is around maintenance and project management for on-going continuous integration).

Tim Neil sees this move as part of RIM's "massive change on collaboration; let's be open and let's provide choice," and Pelegri Llopart points to Qt 4.82-based games from the Nokia N9 that Qt backers KDAB have ported and shown running on the BlackBerry DevAlpha device without any code changes.

The reaction of the Qt community has been mixed. On the one hand, BlackBerry 10 will be a major platform for Qt-based apps and there are few of those left (and fewer still that have any major market presence) so it's a welcome development. On the other hand there are those in the Qt community who are cautious about committing to BlackBerry 10 simply because they have been burned so many times in the past when manufacturers have promised that a new platform would be profitable for developers. If you've been let down by Nokia and Intel and Samsung it's only natural to wonder if RIM is only getting involved with Qt because it needs developers. In the long run, developers need platforms as much as platforms need developers and only RIM's continuing commitment can address those kinds of trust issues.

But RIM is continuing to be open with developers, especially with the introduction of what it calls "arrival boards" for the APIs that are in development. Think of the lists of flights and gates you see at airports or train destinations and platforms at railway stations. The idea actually came from an open source project, according to Tim Neil, but they've quickly become a key way to show the status and roadmap for features and they'll soon have extra features like Like and voting buttons, promises Neil: "so we can see whether our priorities are matching the community". RIM has already changed some priorities after informal feedback. This kind of openness is getting positive reactions from developers and helps contribute to the general lack of impatience with the lengthy development cycle.


BlackBerry 10 devices are still some months off and you could argue that RIM is supporting developers and being a good open source citizen because it needs all the help it can get to compete with iOS, Android and even Windows Phone 8. But whatever the reason, the company that once saw transparency as an alien concept (and made developers get notarised before they could download any tools) is reaping the benefits of making its developer platform more open.

Mary Branscombe is a freelance technology journalist and editor. Having worked as a commissioning editor for eleven years, she now writes about technology for UK magazines and tech web sites.

Print Version | Permalink:
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • submit to slashdot
  • StumbleUpon
  • submit to reddit

  • July's Community Calendar

The H Open

The H Security

The H Developer

The H Internet Toolkit