Pronounced “cute”, apparently

What the hell is Qt, and why should I care about its sale?

The future of the Qt framework last week looked bleak as Nokia announced the closure of the Australian branch working on it. Thankfully, the phone manufacturer had the sense to sell it on to Digia, another Finnish company.

With Nokia focusing exclusively on handsets running Windows Phone, continuing to work on Qt made little sense for the company - though they apparently got “a fraction” for it than the $150m Nokia bought it for in 2008.

Of course, if you’re a developer you may be asking: “why should I care about some obscure tech being passed about?” Well, if Digia play their cards right, Qt has the potential to be a strong contender in the world of cross-platform development - both desktop and mobile.

Qt is far from a household name, but considering that it’s integrated into 155 million hardware devices, it’s probably in at least one or two things you own. Samsung, Asus, Philips and Sony utilise Qt in hardware ranging from set-top boxes to in-car GPS systems and even fridges. Yes, really.

Qt isn’t just for hardware operating systems, though: it’s found in a load of desktop apps, including Google Earth, VLC and the Linux version of Skype.

Possibly more interesting than Qt, which is coded in C++, is its Qt Quick framework, which uses an HTML5-style markup for quick production of native mobile apps.

Under Nokia ownership, development focused mostly on MeeGo and Symbian platforms (with webOS onboard too). But with Digia pledging to “[widen] the support for mobile operating systems”, it could soon become another potential choice for developers putting together cross-platform mobile apps.

Sure, Qt Markup Language (QML) may be yet another syntax to learn, but if you’re jumping straight out of CSS and JavaScript it’s considerably simpler than Java or C#:

import QtQuick 1.0

Rectangle {
    width: 200
    height: 200
    color: "blue"

    Image {
        source: "pics/logo.png"
        anchors.centerIn: parent


Plus, Qt developers are experimenting with a script allowing direct export from Photoshop - something you can’t say about PhoneGap. Oh yes, and it’s free and open source - did we mention that earlier?

Of course, it remains to be seen if Digia can pull off decent iPhone and Android compatibility, but we’ll be keeping a keen eye on Qt’s progress.

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Elliot Bentley

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