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Barrier lowered between Linux interfaces

A software company eliminates a legal barrier between competing graphical user interfaces that divide Linux users.

A company has eliminated a legal barrier between competing graphical user interfaces that have divided Linux users.

Trolltech announced yesterday that the next version of its Qt software library will be released under the General Public License, the mainstay of the open-source world that has produced Linux and several other significant software packages.

The change means the KDE user interface, which is based on Trolltech's Qt, will now compete on a more equal technical basis with the Gnome user interface, which is based on the GTK+ library. In a series of flame wars in recent years, debaters have often focused on the legal underpinnings of the two user interfaces.

It's the second time Trolltech has moved toward the open-source community's preferences. In March 1999, Trolltech changed Qt's license to a new creation called the Q Public License. In remarks posted at the open-source programmer site Freshmeat, Trolltech programmers Eirik Eng and Matthias Ettrich wrote, "We want to give a strong sign that we have never wanted to control the graphical interface" of Unix or Linux.

The legal convergence of the two interfaces, however, isn't likely to result in a merger, representatives from both sides have said. The two packages are based on different code bases and have different developer communities, among other cultural differences.

In most installations of Linux, though, both KDE-Qt programs and Gnome-GTK+ programs will run side-by-side. Developers writing the libraries have worked to provide similar abilities. But it's taken explicit effort to make sure text can be copied from a program written for Qt and pasted into a program written for GTK+.

Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, Red Hat and others recently announced backing of Gnome.

Qt 2.2, which Trolltech said will be released tomorrow, has several improvements over the current version, Trolltech said, including a programming tool for designing user interfaces for programs, new networking components, support for XML and support for multi-threaded tasks.