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Ubuntu Mobile looks at Qt development environment

By Rodney Gedda
January 20, 2009 12:00 PM ET - The Ubuntu Mobile operating system is undergoing its most radical change, with a port to the ARM processor for Internet devices and netbooks, and may use Nokia Corp.'s Qt development environment as an alternative to GNOME.

The biggest reason for the switch to Qt would be because that environment now includes the LGPL (Lesser General Public License), a version of GPL 3.0 that allows additional permissions.

During a presentation at this year's conference in Hobart, Australia, Canonical Ltd.'s David Mandala said Ubuntu Mobile has changed a lot over the past year in that it now includes netbook devices in addition to MIDs and the ARM port.

"I worked on ARM devices for many years, so a full Linux distribution on ARM is exciting," Mandala said, adding one of the biggest challenges is reminding developers to write applications for the 800-by-600 screen resolutions found in smaller devices.

"The standard [resolution] for GNOME [apps] is 800 by 600, but not all apps are. We do a fair amount of work customizing screen sizes. Our apps are optimized to fit 4.5 to 10-in. LCDs -- with and without touch screens."

For this reason Ubuntu Mobile uses GNOME Mobile (the Hildon framework) instead of a full GNOME desktop. But now that Nokia has open sourced Qt under the LGPL, Canonical may consider the Qt option as an alternative.

"We will be looking at a better framework than Hildon for screen input," Mandala said. "Hildon is about to change and watch this space. Intel and Nokia are creating a huge amount of change so hang tight for a couple of months. We will chose the best tool."

Mandala said some of the KDE apps fit on the smaller screens well.

"I can't say anything about KDE at this point, but who would have thought Qt would go LGPL," he said.

Ubuntu Mobile for netbooks will also get its own distribution in line with the release of Jaunty Jackalope in April 2009.

"Jaunty will have a full image for netbook devices," Mandala said. "Jaunty netbook edition will have a cut-down set of applications compared with the Ubuntu desktop, but apt-get works and you can install what you like."

The Jaunty netbook release may be GNOME-based or an alternative desktop.

"It's a completely supported Ubuntu distribution" and will get updates every six months. "We've ported the main repository, and compiled Universe," he said. "About 500 packages are still not built out of some 10,000."

"The interfaces are changing, and they are playing with the interface to see what works for consumers," Mandala said. "It differs from Ubuntu desktop, as it is not for experts."

The ARM v7 system for netbooks is under development and there are issues as most boards don't have 2-D and 3-D Linux drivers yet.

"We are also targeting things a little differently, and Ubuntu Mobile requires some tweaking," Mandala said. "It is going on proprietary hardware and has proprietary extensions. It is a different marketplace, but we are still out here for the community."

"I'm working very hard with system vendors to get these devices to market at reasonable prices."

As for an Ubuntu Mobile GSM phone, "the big drawback is there is no telephony stack out there for us to use and there are certification issues."

Reprinted with permission from Copyright 2012 IDG, all rights reserved.
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