Oct 22, 2010

My boss asked me to use Orbit UI and I said No

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You may have heard the announcements from Nokia that "Nokia Focuses on Qt to Extend Reach for Developers". This sentence actually does not make sense to those who are not familiar with the matter. Why should it? One would assume that Nokia, which acquired Trolltech -the maker of Qt- and became the maker of Qt, would be using Qt for all its internal and external development needs. Well, one would be wrong.

At the time, when Nokia acquired Qt, Nokia was in immediate need for a good looking, finger touch enabled UI toolkit with a complete API set. There were already efforts within Symbian organization to create a solution. This effort was fairly resourced and did have limited success. However, this solution did not really provide the ease of development, or a complete API set and we all know that getting those right requires a lot of work. As a result, Nokia did the best acquisitions of its history.

When Qt arrived to Symbian, it did not have a look and feel suitable for mobile. It was using its default windows style and on a phone that actually looked horrible. This alerted the people who are responsible of the welfare of the Symbian's UIs. Since the former employees of the Trolltech were still probies on Nokia, they turned to the only people they knew for a solution. More or less the same group of people that tried to provide the earlier solution started to build a UI toolkit using mainly the basic graphics capabilities of Qt. The resulting work was later named Orbit UI.

Orbit was so dominant on Symbian organization that Orbit was synonymous to Qt. I recall explaining over and over to people the difference between Orbit and Qt back then. It was actually around those days when my boss.probably affected by the propaganda and the amount of resources put behind Orbit, asked if we should start using Orbit to implement Java UIs instead of Qt. My reply was, "No, we are better of with Qt".
I have steered away from Orbit for several reasons, its cross-platform story was unclear, Orbit development team did not have a history of making good APIs, it was missing functionality that was important to implement eSWT. More important from all these. Orbit was the result of human factors and did not provide a superior solution to a technical problem. Hence, It is not amusing that Orbit UI and its sister MeeGo touch (which also has a similar story) now vanishes and Qt and the new Qt Quick becomes the main developer focus for Nokia's internal and external developers. Now, Nokia's developer story becomes one that I can trust to have the eSWT implementation on.

Update: The good folks on Forum Nokia has informed me about MeeGo touch. Appearently, MeeGo touch is not going away immediately in Harmattan, however it is not the recommended UI toolkit.