Thursday, January 15, 2009

Nokia changes Qt license to LGPL

In 2007 Nokia purchased Trolltech, the makers of the Qt GUI toolkit, for $153 million. Qt was licensed with the GPL which allowed Trolltech to charge for commercial licenses ($5000 per developer). From the Nokia big picture this likely didn't account for a significant amount of revenue. Today Nokia announced that for the Qt 4.5 release (expected March 2009) that they were changing the Qt license to the LGPL which is much less restrictive than the current GPL. The LGPL eliminates the business model of selling commercial Qt licenses but this will also have a dramatic effect on the Linux desktop ecosystem. This changes everything.

For the last decade the Gnome GTK camp has been battling the KDE Qt camp for dominance on the Linux desktop. The Gnome project was actually started as a reaction to the Qt licensing that KDE was using. Gnome had the financial support of many large vendors while KDE was mainly supported by Trolltech and a couple smaller Linux vendors. This KDE vs Gnome battle has been extremely detrimental to the development and success of the Linux desktop. It has splintered developer communication and support, been a waste of resources, and caused a massive amount of confusion for users. The KDE vs. Gnome battle is probably the single biggest reason why the Linux desktop has never been able to catchup with Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X. Too bad this Qt license change didn't happen a decade ago.

By changing Qt to the LPGL, Nokia is hoping to encourage toolkit usage and developer support. Qt is a very capable cross-platform toolkit so this change of license could result in more professional developers porting their applications to Linux which would be a good thing.

On the other hand, changing Qt to the LGPL basically marginalizes licensing revenue stream and IP ownership. It makes you wonder what exactly did Nokia get for the $153M it paid for Trolltech? Just a bunch of developers?