Transcript of talk: "How an Itching Troll and a Park Bench Influenced KDE"

KDE Contributor and Developer Conference

Notes taken by: Jonathan Riddell (these are not official KDE material)

More information on the talk can be found here

The organizer of the last conference gave us his best wishes and said how nice it was that the conference was now too big to be held in Nove Hrady because he could have a free summer.

Matthias Kalle Dalheimer had his laptop was stolen in Oslo, but to prove that he held no grudge against Olso the speaker, one of the founders of Qt, was invited from that very city.

The speaker, Eirik Chambe-Eng from Trolltech, showed us the Sharp palmtop computer running a Qt application which impresses the press even if the application is only a JPEG viewer for his slides.

A short history of the Benevolent Trolls

Haavard Nord and Eirik Chambe-Eng started Trolltech after meeting at university in 1998. They shared a passion for programming, starting with connecting their computers by serial port and making a program in assember to let them chat over the link. Eirik was a speedy coder while Naavard was the perfectionist. They consider themselves part of the Turbo Pascal Generation, which was text based and easy to learn.

In 1990 GUI programming came along. Motif, Win32 and Mac Toolbox were horrible to use and had difficult APIs. Eirik and Haavard were working on a project that had to work on Motif, Windows and Mac, and when sitting on a park bench they realised they needed a cross platform display system. Cross platform tools existed but were generally poor and made Motif programming look like good fun; they were also were expensive, so they wanted to scratch the itch and make their own.

In 1994 they started Trolltech and set out to create a multiplatform software development tool. They wanted a Free Software version, but investors thought there were crazy, so Trolltech was self-funded. As a policy the only only hired programmers who were better than themselves., and had no real sales people to begin with so that they could focus on the product. Major development was under GNU/Linux and X11, but dual licensing was very important.

Toolkit development is different from application development and requires another skill set; it takes about 10 times longer to write toolkit code and it will require continuous maintenance.

The design principles of Qt are to make it as simple and fast as possible, with focus on perfection to the last detail and API stability. The goal was that anyone with a little C++ knowledge and no Qt experience should be able to read and understand a Qt applicaion, and that Qt should minimize glue code by doing the hard work for the programmer. For sake of perfection they sometimes remove functionality from a release to accommodate the need for fairly regular releases.

Qt 0.6 arrived in 1994, when they were doing consultancy and packaged whatever they had. In 1995 they rewrote the signals code overnight and released version 0.9. Version 1.0 came in September 1996; by 1999, with version 2.0, Qt had unicode; 3.0 came in October 2001 with database and other new features. Qt 4.0 is expect to be released in the first quarter of 2005.

Matthias introduces the Trolls to KDE

In 1996 they started to get strange questions about widget flags from someone called Matthias. Then Matthias posted his famous KDE announcement. Similar messages were very common at the time but most of them did not get further than a webpage. Matthias was different - he had a vision and the ability to solve it, and with Lyx he had a good reputation.

Qt usage in Germany grew quickly in 1997 due to KDE, which made Qt a native toolkit on GNU/Linux, and so Trolltech recruited several KDE people including Matthias. KDE Free Qt Foundation was creted as a response to the license issues in 1997. It was a good way to show support for Free Software. They hired "intellectual property" lawyers to make the contract, who wondered why they were being paid to make a contract saying Trolltech would never stop giving something away for Free!

Trolltech get a lot of feedback from the Free Software developers who outnumber their commercial and proprietary users many times. KDE gets a free high quality toolkit, Trolltech gets mind-share and good product feedback as well as a big showcase for Qt.

0% of these statistics were made up

In a survey sent out to 6,000 Qt license holders (most of them), most customers responded that they had been using it for less than 2 years. Their target markets by OS are Windows first, then X11/GNU/Linux, but they intend to expand the X11/GNU/Linux market, and predict a decline in Windows. Most customers (31%) are in USA, with 23% in Germany, and the UK third with 7%. They provide for a large range of industry segments, but are very popular in electrical design applications.

Applications for sale come from 48% of license holders (1500 software companies), whilst 37% use Qt for in house development. One third of license holders have participated in Free Software projects, whilst 2% don't know if they have or not! 97% would recommend Qt to others; only 1% said no, and 2% didn't know. Trolltech are now the market leader for compiled cross platform development.

They have 4400 customers, 90 employees, 17 nationalities with offices in Norway, US and Australia. They are profitable.

Engineering is split in 2, Qt development is done in Oslo headed by Matthias Ettrich. Qtopia done in Australia.

Qt 4.0 will be backwards compatible, faster, better, smaller, API modernised.