It seems fair to say that the Ubuntu community’s collective head is already spinning at the very thought of all the changes coming down the pike for its favorite Linux distribution.
After all, there’s been Canonical’s decision to adopt Unity as the next desktop Ubuntu’s default interface, and there’s been the equally shocking plan to switch away from X.org and onto Wayland as the distro’s new graphics system. And that’s on top of a raft of smaller but still significant changes!
Well, one can only hope Ubuntu fans have been taking their vitamins lately, because recently word got out that yet another big change is planned. Specifically, future versions of Ubuntu — post-Natty Narwhal, that is — will incorporate the Qt user interface libraries; they may, in fact, even include applications based on Qt.
‘A Celebration of Free Software’s Diversity’
“As part of our planning for Natty+1, we’ll need to find some space on the CD for Qt libraries, and we will evaluate applications developed with Qt for inclusion on the CD and default install of Ubuntu,” Mark Shuttleworth wrote in a recent blog post.
“The decision to be open to Qt is in no way a criticism of GNOME,” Shuttleworth stressed. “It’s a celebration of free software’s diversity and complexity.”
Now in the works, apparently, are dconf bindings for Qt “so that it is possible to write a Qt app that uses the same settings framework as everything else in Ubuntu,” he added.
‘Smart Moves All Around’
Reactions in the Linux blogosphere have been diverse, to say the least.
“Totally agree with Mark,” wrote Indian-Art on The H, for example.
Similarly, “Canonical seems to be making smart moves all around,” agreed ricegf on PCWorld. “I’m particularly happy with the decision to include Qt in 11.10 and later, as that would appear to simplify writing apps that easily cross-compile between Ubuntu and MeeGo.”
‘Not Quite Realistic’
On the other hand: “What it would do in reality is add more fragmentation — having just another API for a configuration system doesn’t really add value but confusion,” countered mart on OSnews. “Also, expecting developers to ‘write applications for Ubuntu’ is not quite realistic.
“Most Qt-only applications are targeted to the most wide target platform (especially Windows and Mac in primis) so expecting them to target a specific Linux distribution (with the hope some other distributions will adopt it, but i wouldn’t hold my breath) instead seems not realistic to me,” mart added.
Similarly: “Why should authors of Qt applications be falling over themselves to re-write their apps just for the ‘honour’ of being included on Mr. Shuttleworth’s Ubuntu default install CD?” asked lemur2. “Why would it be so hard for Mr Shuttleworth to arrange to do the work of integration, if he wants to include these best-of-class Qt applications on his default CD?”
Linux Girl’s Debate-o-Meter was soon screaming. She took to the streets of the Linux blogosphere to learn more.
‘Many Good Qt Apps Out There’
“I am surprised it has taken them this long,” began Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. “There are many very good Qt applications out there, and forcing users to stick with one widget system when there are at least two or three that are widespread curtails what a user can do with his/her computer.”
In fact, “it is not uncommon for me to install apps using both GTK and Qt on the same computer,” Travers pointed out.
Indeed, “I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t allow QT apps in the first place,” agreed Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.
‘A Horrible Mistake’
Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza wasn’t so sure.
“This seems like a horrible mistake,” Espinoza told LinuxInsider. “I run Ubuntu and not Kubuntu because I want to use mostly GTK apps.
“I have Qt (or possibly all of KDE for all I know) installed because I am not that picky about what I install, but there’s little enough headroom available in the installer image as it is,” Espinoza added. “What is it about Linux distributions tending towards bloat? Needlessly depending on Mono is bad enough, now we’re pulling in Qt for the base system? What’s next, openstep?”
‘A Great Service’
Blogger Robert Pogson saw it differently.
Ubuntu “has handicapped itself by sticking with gtk for the default installation from a single installation CD,” Pogson opined.
By committing to better integration of Qt applications, Ubuntu “will no doubt be doing desktop GNU/Linux a great service,” Pogson concluded. “The question remains what they will chop from their default installation to make room for Qt …”
In fact, Slashdot blogger Barbara Hudson had a suggestion on that very point.
“Instead of worrying about what might have to be removed to make room for the Qt libraries, wouldn’t it make more sense to just stick with a DVD?” asked Hudson, who goes by “Tom” on the site.
‘Something Had to Be Done’
“After all, CDs — if you can find them — are no longer cheaper than DVDs,” she pointed out. “And the argument that ‘people in third-world countries don’t have the bandwidth to download a whole DVD’ ignores the fact that sharing one downloaded DVD with a complete set of applications uses less bandwidth overall than sharing a minimalist CD and then individually downloading applications to ’round out’ each computer.”
In short, “CDs are dead,” Hudson asserted. “Admit it, put out a minimalist DVD of a gigabyte or so if you must, but drop the CD format. Any machines out there that are CD-only are too old to use the ‘latest and greatest’ anyway.”
Meanwhile, the move “most certainly is” a shot at GNOME, Hudson added. “The Gtk toolkit and Gnome looked out of date when originally released, and they’re now so far behind Qt and KDE that something had to be done.
“Expect to see many Gnome apps get dropped for their KDE equivalents, because it’s better to ship something today than to wait a year for developers to adapt their applications to the new Gtk toolkit,” she predicted.
‘Bravo, Mr. Shuttleworth’
Indeed, particularly given that “the future is mobile,” Canonical’s move is a good one, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet opined.
“The Qt framework works on nearly everything from WinCE to Maemo and has WIP ports coming along for all the major mobile platforms like Android and iPhone,” hairyfeet explained. “By promoting Qt, Shuttleworth is positioning Ubuntu to be the ‘Linux for the masses’ by giving developers an easy platform to write to and on that is cross platform.”
In other words, with Qt and Mono, “Shuttleworth is making it easy to develop cross platform using Ubuntu AND giving Ubuntu users more apps at the same time,” hairyfeet concluded. “That is just smart, and I applaud the man for it. Bravo, Mr. Shuttleworth. Bravo.”
I have great respect for Tom/Barbara Hudson’s wisdom in these matters but I disagree that the CD is dead. I can still by CDRs for pennies. They will hold the Debian GNU/Linux netinst distro which relies on pulling in packages from a local server or distant mirror. Many desktop and notebook PCs still have a CD drive although USB devices are hot and have a future. CDs are still the cheapest way to distribute FLOSS except for handing out the URLs on bits of paper. Debian is too large to fit on a single DVD anyway and we even have multi-arch and custom CD building. The CD is mature tech, not dead yet.