Going back: Qtscape and the first port of Mozilla to Qt

I recently came across an article reporting the rebirth of the Qt port for Firefox 4. When the journalist wrote about rebirth they were referring to work that some bloggers at Tech Freaks 4 You reported two years ago, but it rattled loose an old memory I had from when I first joined Trolltech (way back when digital watches were thought to be a pretty neat idea).

In early April of 1998 (which was before I joined, but still in the same era) a team of Trolltech employees and free software developers wanted to prove the power of Qt, not only from a cross-platform perspective but also from a coding efficiency perspective. Their goal: to port the recently open sourced Netscape Navigator frontend to Qt in a “mythical man month”. I could describe what they did but better to share what they wrote at the time:

April 7, 1998

Trolltech today released the QtScape demonstration program to the public. A team of seven programmers have in five days ported to Qt the newly released Netscape Navigator web browser source code. Qt is Trolltech's multi-platform Graphical User Interface (GUI) toolkit. The free QtScape is released as a "proof of concept" that Qt as a platform provides all the functionality required for making state-of-the-art GUI applications, as well as allowing rapid application development.

"When Netscape Communications Corporation earlier this year announced that it would release the source code of Communicator 5.0, we decided that this was the perfect opportunity to show the world the flexibility and effectiveness of our GUI toolkit" said Eirik Eng, CEO of Trolltech. "By giving a team of seven programmers only five days - a "mythical man-month" - to achieve a functioning Qt port of Netscape Navigator, we wanted to demonstrate the ease and speed of developing graphical user interfaces with Qt."

The QtScape development team consisted of five Trolltech senior engineers as well as two programmers volunteering from the free software community. Netscape released the Communicator source code March 31, and the team came together the day after to face an immense task: to replace the 500 000 lines of C and C++ code in the X-Windows/Motif and Microsoft Windows specific parts of Communicator. Nonetheless, QtScape implements almost all the main web browser functionality of Netscape Navigator. In some areas, the port improves on the original: The pages are drawn noticeably faster, and the color handling on 256-color screens is better.

"We were confident that we would achieve a satisfactory result, although the Communicator source code was not easily penetrated," said Haavard Nord, president of Trolltech. "This represents definite evidence of the power and flexibility of Qt, as well as a demonstration of the skills of our programmers. I am very satisfied."

So there you have it! A little bit of Qt history that most have probably forgotten. By the way I have been poking around but I can’t seem to find the source code or screenshots for Qtscape. If anyone happens to find either please post in the comments section.

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