Saturday, August 01, 2009

Create a Qt

Downloaded and been playing with Qt Creator a bit. Previously I was using KDevelop for Qt 4 development, which worked alright. It had fair integration for Valgrind and GDB, and the editor worked fairly well. It had a few hooks for qmake and handled the Qt project building process fairly well.

They don't have a native KDE 4 KDevelop just yet. Not a huge deal... I could easily install it & tweak it for my projects. Before I did, however, I thought I'd give Trolltech's Qt-centric IDE a spin.

Trolltech says Qt Creator's focus is ...not [to] solely focus on a big feature list, but also on small details which make your life easier. Such a goal describes the project fairly well; I was pretty impressed with how easy it was to carry my KDevelop project over. Qt relies on project files (instead of Makefiles or configure scripts) for determining build flags and resources. Those same build files were directly imported into Qt Creator and set up the IDE likewise. Library dependencies were set up right off the bat; no problems at all. Just a click and builds were running immediately.

Debugging is integrated quite nicely. Since the vast majority of my time is spent in either NetBeans or Eclipse working with Java EE 6 stuff I've grown accustomed to robust and very granular debugging that allows me to dig deep into variables of every scope. While GDB only lets me go so far, Qt Creator presents the info fantastically and allows me to drill into objects in a very familiar way.

I think Java and the vast software stack around it is still the best way to engineer enterprise or academic applications. From Lucene to Stanford's Log-linear Part-Of-Speech Tagger it seems that most services and library software engineers would rather work within a fast virtual machine and forgo worrying about memory allocation or debugging backtraces.

Still, one has to wonder about where the wind will blow Java now that Oracle has swallowed the Sun. Java on the desktop, despite attempts with Swing and JavaFX, just hasn't received the attention that it needs. It's to the point where I had to write native code to get the system properties I wanted. Java 6 update 10 was a huge step forward, but someone needs to carry the torch. I imagine that Oracle would shelve desktop Java just as it might for a myriad of other Sun technologies.

With Oracle taking Java some unknown direction and the Java desktop still needing attention, a framework / build environment such as Qt 4 stands in the gap nicely. It's a huge compromise between the ease of engineering with Java and the native accessibility that comes with C/C++. I worry about memory management (somewhat) less when sticking with Qt conventions and Qt Creator / GDB gives me nice debugging that approaches that of a JVM. It makes me wonder if my long languishing desktop apps could stand a Qt 4 re-write.

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