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FOSS Qt Releases Delayed by up to 12 Months?

On 8 April 2020, Olaf Schmidt-Wischhöfer wrote in an email to the KDE community (emphasis mine):

[…] last week, [The Qt Company] suddenly informed both the KDE e.V. board and the KDE Free QT Foundation that the economic outlook caused by the Corona virus puts more pressure on them to increase short-term revenue. As a result, they are thinking about restricting ALL Qt releases to paid license holders for the first 12 months.

To be clear: Nothing has been decided yet. I certainly hope that this “thinking” by The Qt Company remains just that: thinking. But I am not quite sure.

Olaf is one of the board members of the KDE Free Qt Foundation. The two board members of KDE e.V. and the two board members of The Qt Company negotiate a software license agreement (SLA) governing the FOSS versions of Qt. If there is a tie, the two KDE members decide. You find a summary of the Software License and the work of the Foundation in my post Safe-Guarding the (L)GPL Future of Qt.

Given Olaf’s position, the response by Petteri Holländer, Senior VP Product Management at The Qt Company, smells of a non-denial denial (emphasis Petteri’s):

There have been discussions on various internet forums about the future of Qt open source in the last two days. The contents do not reflect the views or plans of The Qt Company.

Petteri’s response came only one day after Olaf’s email.

Section 3 of the SLA requires The Qt Company to release at least one minor or major Qt version every 12 calendar months. So, The Qt Company are in their full right to delay FOSS Qt releases up to 12 months. There is nothing illegal about that.

Threatening with the maximum delay of 12 months could well be negotiation tactics. The Foundation made the opposite demand, as Olaf writes in his email (emphasis mine):

Making our contract with the company stronger, requiring them to make immediate Free Software releases of Qt

Normally, I would go for negotation tactics, if The Qt Company hadn’t tightened the thumbscrews on FOSS Qt users over the last years:

  • Moving from LGPL v2.1 to v3 with Qt 5.6.
  • New Qt modules are often not available under GPLv3 let alone LGPLv3.
  • Offline installers and LTS versions are only commercially available.
  • Binary Qt downloads require handing over email addresses such that Qt Sales can easily follow up.

Delaying FOSS Qt releases by 12 months would fit perfectly into this trend. I doubt that it would change much for Qt embedded systems.

Qt embedded systems rarely run on the latest Qt version. The Qt version is typically dictated by the BSP version for your embedded device. Customers stick with the same BSP and hence with the Qt libraries included – often for years. Moreover, these customers rarely need the latest Qt features or bug fixes. Getting FOSS Qt releases with a 12 month delay wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice for most customers.

Since Qt 5.6, the strategy of The Qt Company has been to make the use of FOSS Qt more and more inconvenient. Their main sales argument seems to be that using Qt under LGPLv3 is extremely dangerous. I have witnessed Qt sales people using this classical FUD strategy with many prospective customers. It hardly ever works.

Prospects can disarm Qt sales people with a simple question: “What do I get in return for my money?” – Qt sales people will ramble on about the technical merits of Qt, about the productivity gains from using Qt, about the moral superiority of paying for Qt, about the viciousness of Qt LGPLv3 – and then da capo al fine. They talk a lot about themselves and their wonderful technology. Unfortunately, they forget to come up with a compelling value proposition from the customer’s point of view.

Although the FOSS-Qt-is-super-evil strategy doesn’t work, The Qt Company has been doubling down on it – first every year, by now every other month. This strategy is based on weakness. Working out the value of Qt together with customers for specific projects would be a strategy based on strength. And – it would work much better!

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