Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Qt 4.0 from Trolltech

I met with the folks from Trolltech last week for a presentation on Qt 4.0, which ships at quarter end. For readers unfamiliar with Qt, it is a highly portable toolkit (that is, GUI, collections, database, threading, XML functions and others) that’s used by many ISVs. It is dual-licensed, meaning that if you use it on a free, open-source project, you can get it at no cost. For anything else, you’ve got to buy a license from Trolltech. The free version is the basis for Linux’s KDE (the K Desktop Environment).

I worked with Qt 3.x for well over a year and I was very impressed. Qt is one of the cleanest libraries available. It is written C++ and is well thought out, well designed, and after a little experience it becomes intuitive to use. On Windows, I think it’s a better interface to the operating system than Win32 is. Not only because it’s better designed (You soon know the APIs without looking them up because they’re so consitently named.), but because it’s portable (to Linux, Mac, UNIX). Version 4.0 is a major upgrade. The Trolltech folks told me that they added numerous functions and also redesigned the painter so it renders far more-advanced graphics far faster. And, indeed, the demo blasted the screen.

Qt 4 also adds considerable threading support, which I think will be an important, even if underappreciated, benefit. When I was co-authoring the book on Hyper-Threading Technology for Intel Press, I had to write the same program twice. Once for Windows threads and once for Pthreads (the Linux/UNIX threading model). I really wanted a portable way to write the code. If Intel Press had allowed it, I could have used Qt 3 (I didn’t even ask because prior to Qt 4, Windows versions of the library required a paid license–there was no freebie for open-source projects.), but Qt 4 with its greater threading coverage and friendlier Windows license would be a slam-dunk today.

Qt 4 looks like an important release. (I suspect I’ll be reviewing it once it ships.) And with Macs soon migrating to Intel platforms, some code will need to be rewritten. Qt 4 probably represents a better solution than porting and tweaking old Mac code, especially for Mac developers who are entertaining any ideas of moving to Windows later.

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