Canonical's Qt decision may also be mobile power play

GNOME with Qt apps for Ubuntu sounds good, but perhaps not for MeeGo

When Mark Shuttleworth informed the world yesterday the Qt libraries would be included in the next Ubuntu release alongside the Gtk+ libraries, my very first thought was "Huh. Qt on GNOME. Sounds like MeeGo."

Then it was my second thought. And my third. Because all that stuff Shuttleworth wrote about building a vibrant ecosystem is all very well and good, and certainly true--but it isn't really a reason for a business decision, is it?

It is very easy in the Linux community to make the connection that significant changes in development, technology, or organization are done solely for the good of the community or code in question. Chiefly because there are times that this is indeed the case: sometimes organizations in the open source arena will make decisions for purely altruistic reasons.

But not always. Sometimes what seems altruistic is just mostly altruistic and a little bit self-serving. And sometimes that distinction is flipped completely around. I am not sure where on this spectrum Canonical's decision to include the Qt libraries in Ubuntu lies, but I strongly doubt it was a purely altruistic decision.

Here's where this is coming from. Back in May, when Canonical announced its Ubuntu Light platform for netbooks and platforms, I asked Canonical Marketing Manager Gerry Carr a question: where does Unity leave the Ubuntu Moblin Remix?

Carr's reply was simple and direct: "We are not planning another version of Ubuntu Moblin Remix."

You may recall that later that week, Carr backtracked on his initial statement, saying that if customers wanted an Ubuntu Moblin (now MeeGo) Remix, then Canonical would certainly oblige them. Also, this statement was made before Canonical's decision to move away from the GNOME 3 shell for Unity, because Canonical didn't want to go in the direction GNOME 3 was heading.

In May, I noted the effect on MeeGo is significant: not only had MeeGo lost a partner/outlet in Canonical, but it potentially had lost a big hardware outlet for future MeeGo installs, too.

[ See also: Clearing the Air About MeeGo ]

And now, this week, we have Canonical reaching out to include Qt libraries in Ubuntu, a decision that I believe will put it right square in MeeGo's path to success on the mobile platform.

The tip off for me was in the conclusion of Ryan Paul's brilliant article summarizing the background of this move to Qt. Go read it, it's a good piece. But I found myself, after mulling over the similarities between what Canonical was trying to do with Ubuntu and what Intel and Nokia are doing with MeeGo, reading this sentence:

"In light of the important role that Qt applications will play in the GNOME-centric MeeGo netbook environment, improvements that aim to make Qt integration with GNOME more seamless will also benefit MeeGo in addition to Ubuntu," Paul wrote.

Yes. That is possibly very true. MeeGo will benefit from having more apps in the ecosystem. But Ubuntu will benefit from the same thing. Further more, with a stronger community and (thus far) a faster delivery performance than MeeGo has demonstrated, I'm wondering if this is a move by Canonical to position themselves to hardware manufacturers as a better MeeGo than MeeGo.

I know, cynical, right?

What's nagging me is that other than blocking MeeGo, I can't find a better business reason to bring the Qt libraries in. If Canonical has any hope of capturing the mobile/netbook market, they have to get in there before MeeGo and Google's ChromeOS have a chance to succeed. ChromeOS has been slow to develop, and MeeGo has yet to gain a lot of market traction. Now is the time for Canonical to move in, and I believe that is just what they are doing.

Will Canonical succeed? Possibly. But time is running out. Once the other players get some traction in this market, the gig will be up--a lesson learned from the explosive growth of Android.

Understand: I do believe that Canonical's decision will improve the general sense of cooperation in the development communities surrounding Qt andf Gtk+. But don't think that there aren't solid business reasons behind the move, too.

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