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Trolltech to Release Qt Under GPL

Decision Alters Linux GUI Landscape

  • September 4, 2000
  • By Kevin Reichard

In a move that should eliminate a major criticism of KDE as a development platform, Trolltech announced today that it is licensing the upcoming free version of Qt/Unix 2.2 under the GPL (GNU General Public License). Developers will have the option of using the open-source version of Qt 2.2 under either the QPL (Q Public License) or GPL license, depending on their licensing requirements.

Qt's licensing terms have fueled many an online debate and shaped the current schism between KDE and GNOME advocates. They also caused a fissure across Linux distributions: because of the licensing requirements, Debian refused to include KDE as part of the core Debian distribution, while Free Software advocates were prompted to launch competing GUI development efforts that eventually resulting in GNOME.

With the release of the free edition of Qt 2.2, developers of free software can use Trolltech's GUI application framework for free. Any software produced with Qt under the GPL license, and any derivatives of this software, must also be released under the GPL. Any user who wishes to create proprietary or closed-source software must first purchase a development license from Trolltech.

According to Eirik Eng, president of Trolltech, the decision to GPL Qt was a natural one given the evolution of the Linux platform.

"Lately the GPL has been used more and more for newly opened source," he says. "We believe in free software, we use Linux as our development platform, we use gcc, and we wanted to support the community."

The free edition of Qt, version 2.2, is scheduled to be released on Wednesday. KDE 2.0 is also scheduled for imminent release, and it should be boosted by the inclusion of the new licensing terms for developers. "While Qt was without a doubt the best technical choice, some members of the free software community didn't agree with Qt's licensing," said Matthias Ettrich, founder of the KDE project (and a Trolltech employee). "Thanks to Trolltech's new licensing scheme, the upcoming KDE 2.0 will receive full acceptance throughout the community."

Trolltech had resisted pleas to release Qt under the GPL. "Early on we feared a fork in the code. The QPL gives us the right to put whatever patches we receive into all of the products, for both open-source developers and closed source developers," Eng says. "We feel pretty sure that we will have the official version of Qt, so the fears of forking are diminished."

Eng said internal debate on the issue began in May and accelerated in the middle of June. "On a practical basis, we hope it will make it easier to choose Qt for development projects, while eliminating the political side," Eng said. "Apart from that, it won't change much. We don't feel that the GPL gives you any more or fewer rights than the QPL. Now people can choose Qt for open source development without any licensing concerns."

Had Eng been surprised by the level of vehemence during discussions of Qt licensing terms? "Yes," he said with a laugh. "Also, we have had the impression that the people with the loudest voices have not always been developers."

"I am very pleased to see that Qt is now available under the GPL," said Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation and the original creator of the GPL. "This is a big win for free software and a great gift from Trolltech to the community."

Members of the Linux community who formerly opposed KDE because of the Qt licensing terms hailed the decision to GPL Qt as being healthy for the Linux community.

"We are delighted to see Qt licensed under the GPL," said Bob Young, chairman of Red Hat. "After this bold move from Trolltech, free software projects can now use Qt without any licensing concerns."

"Debian is excited to see Trolltech take this step," said Wichert Akkerman, leader of the Debian project. "This will encourage the acceptance of Qt as a building block for free software."

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