Ubuntu Embraces QT Toolkit: Blurring Linux Development?

Ubuntu succeeded with lots of GTK applications. Do we really want QT being tossed into the mix?
Posted January 24, 2011

Matt Hartley

Matt Hartley

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GTK vs QT. Now there's a fast path to a geeky argument between passionate programmers of all walks of life. Despite this once widely debated divide, Mark Shuttleworth has announced that Ubuntu is about to add QT libraries to the Ubuntu release known as Ubuntu version 11.10.

According to Shuttleworth, the reasoning behind the inclusion of QT libraries in Ubuntu stems from their perceived "ease of use and integration advantages." I'll take his word for it until I can find glaring data to support a decent counter-argument, since I'm not a programmer myself.

But one thing I don't see being discussed is whether or not this is breaking a system that already works. Ubuntu was made successful with brown themes, the GNOME desktop and yes, lots of GTK applications. Do we really want QT being tossed into the mix?

Trying to please everyone

Considering Ubuntu's move with the "Unity" desktop in future releases of the distro, adding in QT libraries shouldn't come as too big of a shock. It's becoming clear that Ubuntu is bent on taking what works, then tweaking it to see how far they can push the envelope before people start complaining. And like with the Unity desktop, you can always use something else once everything is installed anyway.

My own cynicism aside, I'm willing to give the minds behind Ubuntu a chance. If they can implement these changes without adding to the potential list of bugs that come with any new distro release, fantastic. On the other hand, if we find that the new QT libraries end up creating basic usability challenges due to some unforeseen problems through the blending of the two frameworks, the blow-back will be sizable.

QT libraries won't make any significant difference from the end user perspective if everything goes well during the distro installation. Beginning to make QT-based applications the default over GTK-based apps, however, might peeve off more than a few dedicated users though.

Keeping things familiar is a big deal for many of us. We have things the way we like them. No sense in messing that up. With any luck, we won't see any significant changes in the applications we use. And truth be told, we can always reinstall them should they be dethroned for some obscure reason.

I think it's safe to say that QT libraries will leave most users completely unaffected. It's just not something that we're likely to deal with on a daily basis.

Developer opportunity

The tablet made me do it. This might be one of the biggest motivations for the Ubuntu development team to embrace the shift to the QT library inclusion. Think about these factoids as you ponder what Ubuntu will hold in its sights in the future.

• QT has its own familiarly with ARM architecture, in addition to that of x86. Going with QT means there's plenty of optimization to go around for either architecture in question. Mobile phones, tablets, netbooks – QT provides everything a growing development team could possibly want.

• Touch and multi-touch input. QT has a history of getting their touch input system into a mature form. So using QT applications on a touch-based device presents a certain appeal here for developers looking to get onto tablet computers.

Undoubtedly, there are other benefits to be had here. Yet when we consider if any perceived successes are still in the speculation stages for the Ubuntu world, one still has to wonder – should we be rocking the boat by adding QT at all? Does Ubuntu really have a chance against Chrome OS/Android and iOS on the Apple iPad?

My gut tells me no. At least, not with the kind of numbers that will make anyone stand-up and take notice. But when you factor in international sales, my pessimism is quickly put to rest. Widespread Ubuntu tablet sales all over the world would be enough to make the push for QT in Ubuntu totally worthwhile for developers.

New users at the expense of existing ones

Not to sound adverse to the advancement of technology, but I personally couldn't care less about using an Ubuntu tablet. I prefer a notebook/netbook for my portability needs. And I imagine that I'm not alone in my lack of interest here.

At the same time, regardless of my own aversion to using a tablet, the marketplace has spoken and tablets are clearly part of where portable computing is headed. And at its core, this is fantastic for the idea of spreading the idea of Linux into new hands. I wish the Ubuntu team all the success in the world. But before they get started, perhaps they can address one nagging issue yet to be resolved for us aging notebook users.

Adding QT doesn't fix legacy Ubuntu problems

The working wireless device selection is horrid for the Linux platform, regardless of distro.

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Tags: Linux, Ubuntu, Gnome, Canonical, Qt

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