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Trolltech pushes Qtopia and Qt

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Editors' Blog I'm just contemplating my notes from a roundtable hosted by Trolltech product director Naren Karattup, entitled Unleashing the creative power of the developer – you unleash wild animals, don't you? I think I'm bit nervous.

What's interesting about Trolltech, apart from its cross-platform development tools, is its dual-licensing approach to open source software development.

Most of its income comes from per-developer license fees (and support) from Qtopia, a Linux application platform for mobile phones and embedded devices; and Qt, a set of open-source cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Unix, Linux) development libraries, which are also the basis of Qtopia.

Qtopia, however, also uses a per-device run time license when the device is deployed commercially. The model generally is free software for non-commercial use - then when you have developers' "hearts and minds", you charge for commercial use.

Well, that should work, although Trolltech isn't in profit just yet. It has been, but the investment in Qtopia has eaten up the profits for now.

Its real unique selling point is, perhaps, being in the right place at the right time with "rich internet application development" tools that are actually available, proven to work properly, and which deliver applications with native performance.

It sees its main competition as Tibco's General Interface, Microsoft's Silverlight (there's even a Linux version of this now), and Adobe's Air (once "Apollo") – but claims that these either aren't properly cross-platform and/or fail to provide native application look-and-feel or performance (yet).

There are some pretty impressive Qt applications out there - Adobe Photoshop Elements and Google Earth, for example. Trolltech considers Google Earth as "non-commercial" – it's free – which gives Trolltech a price advantage as a supplier of free development libraries. That's an interesting point. Just how "non-commercial" is building up your brand - and if you don't already have a successful brand yourself, will your tools suppliers offer you the same terms Amazon is offered? In the case of Trolltech, probably.

Karattup identified a number of trends, which are driving Trolltech's strategy:

  • Increasing number of platforms
  • Increased mobility
  • Open source
  • Linux enables software standardisation across devices
  • Linux has a strong convergence story and enables innovation
  • RIA (Rich Internet Applications);
  • Scripting languages
  • Designers leading GUI design, instead of leaving it to programmers

Nothing terribly controversial there then, but he goes on to say that the big issues are complexity; platform heterogeneity, the quest for quality, the migration to Vista, and adoption of open source, many of which result from the drivers he's identified.

Complexity is unavoidable when you have rich internet applications, available to all and sundry and distributed globally. That just reflects a more complex business environment, especially when you mix in loosely-coupled services and "compensation processes" (see John Hunt's recent articles in Reg Dev). Running ACID transactions against a single, centralised company database may have had some issues, but complexity wasn't really one of them.

Platform heterogeneity just adds to complexity, although cross-platform libraries such as Qt should help. And Vista is just another platform - albeit one that might be hard to ignore just because you don't need it.

And complexity and heterogeneous platforms (including mobile phone platforms), don't make searching for quality any easier. I wonder if RIA and scripting help with quality? Well, they help with faster delivery and better user interfaces, but I wonder how they influence functional integrity, resilience, and so on? Is part of the attraction of something like JavaScript, that you can escape from the old coding disciplines – and is this always a good thing? And, is the real and lasting benefit of open source that it helps to put those "good practice" disciplines back – because if you know that someone else will look at what you write, you tend to write it correctly? ®

Trolltech started in Oslo in 1994 and IPOd in 2006. It's now just under half owned by those nice altruistic venture capitalist people (the rest belongs to the management and its employees). You can explore Trolltech Labs, its all-important open source community, for yourselves here.

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