I wasn't planning on continuing with the abandon-the-Windows-desktop-for-Linux theme this week, but the good folks at Trolltech AS (www.trolltech.com) and the talented developers of the K Desktop Environment (KDE) had to go and raise the stakes.
The first event occurred on June 26, when Trolltech extended the noncommercial license for the open-source Qt graphical interface toolkit to include Windows. Trolltech has a two-pronged licensing scheme for Qt. If you want to use Qt to write open-source applications that you plan to make available for free, Trolltech lets you use Qt for free. If you want to charge for your applications and keep your code proprietary, you need to pay Trolltech for the toolkit.
With its broad platform support, Qt has always been an ideal C++ toolkit for building cross-platform applications. For the most part, you simply need to recompile your Qt application to run on Unix, Windows, or embedded systems. Qt will even be available for Mac OS X this fall.
Despite its multiplatform nature, Qt has enjoyed most of its popularity on Linux because Linux programmers tend to make their applications and source code freely available.
Now that open-source developers can get a free version of Qt for Windows, they should make it a priority to get their free Qt applications working on Windows. A flood of Qt applications normally available for Linux suddenly appearing on Windows would give a huge boost to the open-source movement. Windows users would discover how well open-source applications compare to their expensive Microsoft counterparts and how much more quickly open-source projects mature. And they could have this experience without first having to commit to Linux on the desktop. The benefit would go both ways. The contributions of Qt Windows developers would aid the Linux community.
But here's the clincher. I just installed the first beta of the KDE 2.2 desktop, and it is an absolute mind blower. See www.kde.org/announcements/changelog2_1to2_2.html for the impressive list of new features and improvements. Excusing the few rough edges found in any beta, KDE 2.2 is quickly surpassing the Windows desktop in beauty, speed, stability, and flexibility. The KOffice 1.1 suite is making great strides as well, and it looks gorgeous with the new KDE 2.2 anti-aliased fonts.
Now consider the following. Qt is now free for use with open-source applications on Windows. Qt is the foundation for KDE and all the KOffice applications. KDE and KOffice are open source and free. Are we getting a vision of the future here? If free Qt applications become popular on Windows, it will expose Windows as nothing more than a superfluous foundation for applications whose only unique quality is that they create a black hole in your IT budget. Worst of all for Microsoft Corp. would be if the KDE desktop gets ported to Windows. Without the Windows desktop, Windows is entirely irrelevant.
(Write to Nicholas Petreley at email@example.com.)