Monday, January 05, 2009

Qt LGPL

Big news. I actually liked the GPL since it forced 'payment' of some kind. But there is no denying that the license conditions of Qt have limited it's adoption. Those barriers are gone.

The one thing that was problematic with the old arrangement was the insistence on ownership (with rare exceptions) of the code within Qt. If there was a bug, the solution was to maintain a parallel tree and/or wait for Trolltech to fix it. To quote from Ars Technica:

An inclusive and transparent development model

In addition to adopting the LGPL license for Qt, Nokia will also be completely changing Qt's development model to make it more inclusive and transparent. The source code will be moved to a publicly-accessible Git repository so that the latest changes will always be visible. The use of Git, a distributed version control system, will make it easier for third-party developers to participate directly in the process of improving Qt. To further reduce the barrier to participation, Nokia plans to accept code from contributors without requiring copyright assignment.

That is a very positive change. And probably bigger news than the license change.

Looking At the Gift Horse's Teeth

Multi-national corporations don't give things away. So what is the deal here? Nokia seems to be trying to gain developer mindshare. They are in a multi way fiercely competitive market in phones; Apple, now Google, the Microsoft platform, Palm is back in the game, RIM, etc. The base phone market is pure commodity. But if you had a very nice smart phone with a very large developer community that is cross platform, cross capability, cross everything, there is potential.

This is up against Microsoft, with an solid toolchain and product offering. But it is closed and expensive. Google, with an open and free platform developed in the dark. Google is great with free software, but does it the typical way, periodic free code dumps. Control rears it's ugly head. RIM has a totally closed stack and offering and has the benefit of first to market, actually having defined a market segment. Apple with very tight control of not only the platform but what runs on it. Nice, expensive, boutique, but ultimately limiting.

So Nokia comes tearing into the corner like Esa Tikkanen, attempting to change the game. An excellent toolkit with a large and vocal and enthusiastic user base. A license change that will only increase the size of that base, potentially changing KDE and Qt from an outlier in the free software stack to a central part. Throw in the freeware and shareware potential for other platforms. And much of what is written potentially available for a smart phone. With some work of course. The platform potential gets defined in large ways by the numerous users and developers. And by the way, I've got some hardware that you'll like for sale. Think of the implications. I enjoy free software for the ability to customize my work environment. Not wallpapers and sounds, but the whole application and workspace. I want a portable device that would allow me to do that. Not 'allow', but by design encourage.

If you look at the offerings now, they each have a small well defined market to cater to. Rim with the connected. IPhone with the fashionable. I have no use for either, and haven't bought them. My needs will not be met by someone looking for market share. They will be met by ideas implemented by people with similar needs. All we need is a platform to build it on. It seems that Nokia is looking to build that platform.

As I said, very interesting. Palm had such a platform for it's time, but when the possibilities changed, their software wasn't ready for it. As long as Nokia keeps it open, lets go as much as possible, and follows while leading (as tough a challenge as it sounds). Don't do anything approaching the Apple khtml/webkit BS. Remember that people will work to no end for themselves, but will not ever work for you for free. Think hard about the difference and get it right. Produce nice compelling hardware for us to buy and build on.

We are in for an interesting ride. I'm actually excited by the portable platform again.


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