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With Ubuntu's shift to Qt in 11.10, an attack on the mobile sector must be imminent

Ubuntu tablet
Qt, come the end of 2011, is to become a standard component of Ubuntu 11.10. Ubuntu currently, and in the upcoming 11.04 Natty Narwhal distribution, uses Gtk+, a competing toolkit maintained by the GNOME Foundation.

When Canonical announced Ubuntu's shift away from the GNOME desktop manager in 11.04, the switch to Qt was almost a foregone conclusion; GNOME requires Gtk+, but Unity doesn't -- so why stick around? A better question to ask, though, is why Qt?

The odd, but overwhelmingly likely truth seems to be that Ubuntu is moving into the mobile sector. Unity was originally designed as a netbook or small-screen interface; and there's no denying that Unity 2D, without its shiny bells and whistles, is designed for very low-powered devices, like cheap tablets and smartphones.


That's where Qt enters the equation: Qt is the application framework used on Nokia's Symbian and Maemo phones. Qt is also fully cross-platform, with support for Windows, Mac and Linux. With Qt, developers could write a single program for Ubuntu, and have it run on desktops, laptops, tablets, and even smartphones.

But why oh why does Canonical even want to go into the mobile market? Has someone at the top lost their marbles?


The only conclusion I can come to is that Canonical wants a slice of the massive tablet-and-smartphone pie. There's no doubt that the market is growing at an immense rate, and it won't slow down for a few years yet -- but can you really imagine using an Ubuntu smartphone in the next couple of years?

In all likelihood, I think Canonical is hoping to shoulder in on the tablet market. It has ARM experience, and plenty of ties with OEMs in China and other non-Windows/Apple/Google-dominated nations. It's those OEMs that will build the next generation of tablets -- and as the ex-chief operating officer at Canonical said earlier this week: "through a growing desktop business with these [OEMs], [Canonical] has the relationships to nudge them into experimenting beyond Android, and certainly beyond Windows."

Still, I could be wildly off the mark. The move to Qt might just be for stability reasons, or to provide a greater number of apps for new Ubuntu users to install. Stay tuned, though. If the desktop PC really is going the way of the dodo, and with it the Wintel Epoch, there may just be space for Ubuntu in the emerging mobile device melee. Once the furore over the iPad dies down, and generic, cheaper tablets become readily available, it could actually be Ubuntu that becomes the next Windows.

Tags: canonical, cross-platform, desktop manager, DesktopManager, gnome, gtk, kde, open source, OpenSource, osupdates, qt, toolkit, ubuntu, unity, window manager, WindowManager