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Qt Gets the Nokia Treatment

Nokia might be best known as a global mobile phone giant, but it's also making waves in the open source software business, too.

The company's Qt Software division this week released the latest edition of its open source application framework, Qt version 4.5, with improvements that will expand cross-platform capabilities and increase performance.

Nokia's also seizing the opportunity to launch a new developer tool, called Qt Creator -- designed to serve as a full-fledged integrated developer environment, or IDE for Qt.

"What you saw in the past was just our GUI [graphical user interface] builder -- it was an application that sort of looked like an IDE but didn't have backend support for source code or project management," Nokia spokesperson Aron Kozak told InternetNews.com.

"With Qt Creator, we're combining existing tools and adding some additional tools and putting it together in one package. We see this as the spearhead for wider QT adoption," Kozak said. "We want to make it easier for new developers to take up Qt and get up and running quickly with it."

It's a critical update for a closely watched project. Qt is a C++ application development framework for GUIs that enables developers to write applications for deployment across multiple platforms, including Windows, Linux/UNIX and Mac OS X. Qt also is well-known as the framework behind the open source KDE Linux desktop. Qtopia, the mobile flavor of Qt, is also widely used on mobile devices for development.

The moves all come as the latest step in Nokia's plan to expand Qt adoption and deployment, as it competes for share against open source rival GTK and the Linux GNOME desktop. At the same time, the company is also fleshing out another approach to the open source ecosystem, with its Symbian operating system.

Not surprisingly, efforts are afoot to link the company's different projects -- ensuring Qt will someday support development on Symbian -- while also integrating them into Nokia's array of mobile devices.

"We're working on Qt for the Nokia S60 and the Symbian user interface, and we're working with Nokia on their other platforms as well," Kozak said.

Speedier WebKit in Qt 4.5

While Qt 4.5 only made its way into the public eye this week, it's been expected for some time.

Nokia acquired Qt vendor Trolltech in January 2008 for $150 million. Trolltech already had one release in the pipeline at the time, with Qt 4.4, which came out in May 2008. Trolltech also had the Qt 4.5 release on its roadmap prior to the acquisition by Nokia, Kozak said.

The new release builds on the enhancements found in Qt 4.4. Chief among those is a new level of integration with Apple's WebKit rendering software, which first found support in Qt 4.4.

Kozak said Qt 4.5 includes WebKit's new SquirrelFish JavaScript engine, which offers improved JavaScript performance. Apple's new Safari 4 Web browser uses the same engine -- albeit rebranded as "Nitro" -- and is already receiving wide acclaim for the update's speed.

Qt's close ties to WebKit didn't begin with Qt 4.4, however. WebKit stemmed from KHTML, the rendering engine behind the Konquerer Web browser on KDE. Additionally, Trolltech's vice president of engineering, Lars Knolls, is the original author of KHTML.

WebKit support isn't the only tweak in the latest release of Qt. Nokia is also expanding its licensing options in 4.5 by making the software available under the Lesser GPL license, or LGPL -- a move it hopes will further spur commercial adoption.

Prior to the Qt 4.5 release, Qt was available only under the GPL or under a commercial license. While the GPL has strict terms on reciprocity, the LGPL enables a mix with commercial software.

Kozak said adopting the additional licensing option is important is because it now essentially means a developer can create commercial applications for free.

"That new license alone is enough to get a lot of people's attention and generate new interest," he said.

Qtopia no more

Under Trolltech's ownership, Qt also offered a Linux mobile desktop called Qtopia. Under Nokia, however, that project will not be moving forward, Kozak confirmed.

"We have decided to discontinue Qtopia," he said.

Kozak said feedback on Qtopia had indicated that users sought a more modular approach. So Nokia quietly launched Qt Extended last October, designed to offer just that.

"Then what we've done since is we've looked at the core functionality of the product and realized that a lot of it makes sense to migrate across platforms," Kozak explained. "Telephony and Bluetooth are things are things that are interesting on multiple operating systems, so we decided to port the functionally across and just to invest all of our energies into the Qt framework."