Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Qt Developer Days 2010 'Linux format'

’ve just got back from Nokia’s Qt Developer Days in Munich, and the first thing to note is that this year’s event was a lot larger than last year's, pulling in around 20% more developers with a total that must have been close to one thousand attendees. To accommodate this influx, the venue has changed, leaving behind the Hilton Munich Park that’s relatively close to the historic centre of the city to decamp in a brand new hotel, called Dolce Munich Unterschleissheim, about 17km away from the old town. The medieval grandeur of Munich wasn’t a walk away, but then I didn’t have enough time for a walk.

These last three days have been filled full of Qt, starting on Monday with a mammoth Qt Quick session. In fact, Qt Quick, or just ‘Quick’, became the buzzword for the whole event, with everyone
from Nokia’s CTO, Rich Green, to KHTML’s progenitor, Lars Knoll, singing its praises. All I can say is that it’s a technology that manages to fulfil some of the promise from 2009’s Qt 'to-do' list, with even the majority of Qt’s proprietary customers (that I spoke to) seeming generally happy with Nokia’s effort in this direction.
But Quick isn’t the designer’s pencil that was promised in 2009, and nor is it the programming ‘nirvana’ opined by Nokia’s Director of Software and Application Development, Richard Collin. Instead, it’s more like a rapid scripting interface for prototypes and simple applications. It uses a mixture of Javascript and its own declarative QML, bolted onto lots of magic numbers, free animations and Qt's extensive API. And with talk of listviews without sliders, multitouch gesture input and support for various sensor devices, it’s clear that Nokia is trying to bridge the developer/technology gap between itself and Apple.
Lars Knoll, for example, did a live presentation where he built a chess-based puzzle game in around 10 minutes. Qt Creator’s ability to create live previews of images and QML code completion was impressive. It’s also easy to forget that Nokia still sells millions and millions of phones, and now that it ships Qt with all its new smartphones, dropped into a pool of 45m that are already active and waiting for Qt applications, this could be a great opportunity for Linux-based mobile application developers who find Android difficult to work with.
As for the future, Sebastian Nyström’s roadmap emphasised improved performance, hardware acceleration, greater stability, faster web execution through WebKit, and more focus on 3D. There’s also a new open governance initiative, intended to help the Trolls engage with its community, but it’s impossible to say what effect that might have on Qt’s future development. As for the API, the desktop version will continue to get the same level of investment it currently enjoys, while both MeeGo and Symbian versions get increased investment. I asked Rich Green whether this meant the desktop versions were on the back-burner, but he answered with an emphatic 'no'. However, it does seem that Solaris, Maemo 5 and Windows CE versions are being quietly dropped, and there are no plans for a Windows Phone 7 version.
What was more surprising, perhaps, was the almost complete absence of KDE apart from a couple of KDE/Qt developers. To be fair, there isn't usually that much KDE here, but with a more mobile-centric future on the horizon, and a big Gnome release coming next year, this might spell trouble ahead for the Kool Desktop Environment. But with or without KDE, it does seem Qt is going from strength to strength. And with this conference now in its seventh year, with ambitious plans for growth, it’s difficult not to feel a little optimistic about its future, and the future of Linux in general.

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