Qt makes LTS releases commercial-only and accounts mandatory for binaries (again)

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The Qt Company, purveyor of the Qt C++ framework for GUI and cross-application development, has unveiled changes to its offering that don’t bode especially well for open source users.

In a bid to get more users to switch to a commercial Qt license, the company has decided to make long term support releases available to paying customers only. The same goes for the offline installer the project offers. According to The Qt Company, it is “making this change to encourage open-source users to quickly adopt new versions”. It also hopes the move will “make the paid version of Qt more attractive to businesses” and “maximize the feedback we can get from the community”.

The feedback on those particular changes came back rather promptly, showing the Qt community rather miffed about the move. While many get that revenue is needed to make the project grow, an often voiced concern is down to another change: starting February, a general Qt account will be needed to download Qt binary packages. Source packages will stay available to all.

The idea behind this isn’t new, in fact it was already tried in 2015. Back then, negative feedback saw The Qt Company backpedal and make having an account optional for open source downloads, in order to “ease concerns” and “continue with your trust”.

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This time, the company argues “a Qt account lets you make the best use of our services and contribute to Qt as an open-source user”. Users however aren’t convinced that needing an account will automatically lead to more contributions. Instead they see it causing trouble on virtual machines, and as another potential place for data to get ripped off.

The worry of important fixes not making it into versions available to the open source community once version 5.15 hits, is meant to be diffused by the statement that the company’s R&D process will change “to push all bug fixes to the main development branch first”. Selected fixes will then be backported into the stable release branch. This hasn’t stopped open source users from wondering how this will be handled once version 6.0 has been pushed out and development efforts focus on that series.

It also remains to be seen how other open source projects, such as KDE, will deal with the changed offering, forks always being the option that is brought up quickest. Those projects however don’t come up in the blog post about the changes. 

Instead, The Qt Company feels the need to provide start-ups with a leg-up, introducing a special pricing option for small businesses, which will set them back $499 a year. The conditions for this however led many to question the firm’s idea of a start-up, since the offer will only be available to “companies with an annual revenue or funding below $100.000 and fewer than five employees”, which doesn’t sound like any solid small business. Or in fact any two-person C++ startup, with the average salary for a C++ developer in the UK coming in at around $65,000, according to job platform indeed.

The switch to LTS for commercial only will be made with the release of Qt 5.15, which is planned for May 2020. The community will also have to wait till then to learn more about the new R&D process, which might mean there is still some time for additional input.

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