19 January 2008

The Trolls Done Good

Once upon a time, there were a bunch of wicked trolls. And then one day, they became good. That, in a nutshell, is the free software story of Trolltech, which produces the Qt toolkit underlying KDE.

Here's a fuller version:

When the K Desktop Environment was first announced in October 1996, it was not greeted with the universal approval that its creator, Matthias Ettrich, had hoped for. Alongside traditionalists who thought that any kind of graphical user interface was “too Windows-like” or just downright “sissy”, there was a deeper concern over the licensing of the underlying toolkit, Trolltech's Qt, which was free as in beer to hackers, but not free as in freedom. As Ettrich told me in 2000:

Everybody joining looked at alternatives [to Qt], and we had a long discussion: Shall we go with Qt? And the result was [we decided] it's the best technical solution if we want to reach the goal that we have.

Since Trolltech refused to adopt the GNU GPL for Qt (at that point: it did later), and since the KDE project refused to drop Qt, many hackers decided that they had to start a rival desktop project that would be truly free. One of the people thinking along these lines was Miguel de Icaza, who ended up leading a global team to create a desktop environment – although that was hardly his original intention:

Initially we were hoping that the existence of the project would make [Trolltech] change their minds, but they didn't. So we just kept working and working until we actually had something to use.

That “something to use” grew into GNOME, a rich, full-featured desktop environment, just as KDE had done, until the free software world found itself with the luxury – some would say liability – of two approaches.

Now it seems that the trolls have really done good:

Trolltech ASA is licensing its Qt cross-platform development framework under the GNU General Public License version 3 (GPL v3), with immediate effect.

Qt is already available under the GPL v2 and will continue to be so in addition to the GPL v3.

The GPL v3 license will make it easy and safe for free software developers to use Trolltech’s Qt with the most recent license framework from the Free Software Foundation. Trolltech hopes that its move will inspire free software projects to use GPL v3 when programming with Qt.

The move to GPL v3 licensing reinforces Trolltech’s strong tradition of giving developers the liberty to create and share software in accordance with the “four freedoms” defined by the Free Software Foundation.

"We decided to add GPL v3 licensing after consulting with both KDE e.V. and the Free Software Foundation," explained Eirik Chambe-Eng, co-founder of Trolltech. "I first read the GNU Manifesto from the Free Software Foundation back in 1987 and it forever shaped the way I viewed software. We at Trolltech are proud to continue serving the free software community by allowing software developers to choose which GPL version they want to use."

"I am very pleased that Trolltech has decided to make Qt available under GPL v3," commented Richard Stallman, author of the GPL and president of The Free Software Foundation. "This will allow parts of KDE to adopt GPL v3, too. Even better, Trolltech has made provisions for a smooth migration to future GPL versions if it approves of them."

What a turnaround. (Via Elkosmas.gr.)

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