OFF-TOPIC: Qt history refresher course?

Rick Moen rick at
Mon Feb 11 19:40:35 UTC 2002

Quoting Ned Lilly (ned at

> Could someone give (or provide a link to) a summary of the GNU
> community's objections to the QPL, and how the GNOME/KDE brou-ha-ha
> started?

Just to supplement what Matthew and John wrote:

Trolltech's Qt lib was originally available under a proprietary, 
viewable-source licence.  Free of charge, quite generous, but not 
open source.

The KDE folks standardised on it, apparently unaware of the mammoth 
licensing issues created thereby.  Among the things they did --
alongside some truly excellent original work -- was collect, package,
and include rewrites of GPLed works other people had created earlier,
making the new versions be Qt-linked.  The original authors were NOT
contacted to grant licence exceptions allowing distribution of
derivative works using such linkage.  (Please note that Trolltech
did not create this problem.) 

A number of distributions including Red Hat (at first) and Debian
declined to include KDE binaries because of licence conflicts.
It was argued by KDE partisans that the creators of "K" applications 
implicitly permitted Qt linkage by the very nature of the what they
wrote, despite their written licence terms being GPL v. 2.  This was
possibly so, but didn't solve the problem of "K" applications based
on upstream applications from unrelated authors.

In theory, the problem could have been resolved by contacting all
copyright holders of code used in KDE applications, and ask if they
would grant the required licence exception.  A number of people,
including me, attempted to do this, and found that (1) the KDE
organisers were at best indifferent to this assistance, (2) lack of
a common language was an obstacle, and (3) some authors could no longer
be found.

The KDE organisers persistently ignored the problem and acted as if it
didn't exist.  I'm sure they have their own story to tell, but one of
the unfortunate consequences has been lasting distrust on the part of
some:  Open source authors' conditions of use were casually ignored, and 
nobody at KDE seemed willing to acknowledge a problem.

Meanwhile, the Trolltech staff kept having to suffer the fallout, and 
endured quite a bit of unpleasantness from strangers, when they hadn't
caused the problem in the first place.  Probably in order to get people
off their back, they issued a new release that could be received under
the Qt Public License, which minimally met the OSD but sadly was _still_ 
incompatible with GPL v. 2's clause 3.  So, the controversy remained --
until Trolltech acted a second time, announcing a Qt version that could 
be alternatively received under GPL v. 2.

You said "GNU community".  In fairness, you should (if you don't mind
getting an earful) ask on the gnu.* newsgroups.  This mailing list
is run by the Open Source Initiative, not the Free Software Foundation.

This mailing list is, additionally, supposed to be devoted to discussing
licences proposed for OSI approval, as to whether their terms satisfy
the Open Source Definition.  (That's why I've marked the Subject header
as off topic.)

Rick Moen                     Emacs is a decent operating system,
rick at           but it still lacks a good text editor.
license-discuss archive is at

More information about the License-discuss mailing list