Sunday, 12 August 2012

What is QML?

I'm sparing some time to explain QML: Qt Meta Language - officially apart of  Qt Quick and draw in some of my early experiences learning and using it over the past week.

Quick Introduction:

Qt Quick is a set of technologies provided by QT for developing powerful, interactive user interfaces and building programs by using a declarative programming language. The video above is a an example of some programs created using Qt Quick 2 in the upcoming release of QT 5.

Qt Quick allows dynamic interfaces to be created using animations with tweening and all the other fancy bells and whistles, whilst retaining high performance especially by being multi-threaded. Because it's interpreted at runtime, you can modify the QML file and reload it without having to re-compile the application. I even think it's possible to download and load QML from an internet source.

An example of a game produced entirely in QML. A video showcases QML significantly better!

Without being a user interface expert, I would suggest a powerful user interface is one improves the user's workflow and experience when using a program. It's there to also present information in a meaningful way and manipulate it in the most straightforward manner - the method that's is usually the most time saving. This is all in context of the user.

It's my belief that the idea for Qt Quick was conjectured before Trolltech was acquired by Nokia and was intended to compliment and build upon the introducing of Qt Script bindings and the QGraphicsScene introduced in early versions of QT 4.

Qt Quick will not solve everything! There will be appropriate times where interfaces will need to use standard desktop widgets.

A bit about the language:

A declarative language allows the programmer to express a structured program without having to necessarily care about the program flow. Essentially the programmer has to only care about declaring objects and letting the compiler/interpreter figure out the intended behaviour. I think it's difficult to describe, but to draw parallels, the most commonly used declarative language available today are HTML / CSS.

Built upon Javascript and JSON

Qt Quick is built upon a JSON/Javascript structure which due to its nature is very flexible dynamic language to begin with - due to lambda functions and not being strongly typed. Nevertheless javascript or it's more avoided name 'Ecmascript' has many quirks and problems; for interest see videos from Douglas Crockford - the creator of JSON. Despite many cases against for using this language in application development outside web development, it's starting to become very popular due to adavances in using JIT Interpreters.

Playing with Qt Quick using QT Creator

With the latest release of QT Creator, you don't even have to program anything. You can actually use their built in Design editor to build up the QML interface graphically. Otherwise you can code it normally. Unfortunately there is no parsing in KDevelop for QML, so you will have to resort to using QT Creator for code hints. It's very easy to set up a test application: just click new project and hit Qt Quick UI.

You'll be present with a screen with main.qml:

Make a few changes and you can then use build->run to test it out. If you're interested, you can start learning here, or wait for a few guides I may create later.

My Experiences with QML:

I have spent over a week learning and using it to build up the Render Module UI in FreeCAD. It's been relatively very good. It's very quick to learn and I was very surprised how easy it is too build an interface very quick and add some nice transition animations without having to spare too much thought. 

The convenience of JavaScript makes a lot of c++ code redundant for implementing GUI's because we can begin to use a model-view structure. This makes both programming and maintenance far easier and allows more interested program users get involved with the development of the program.

It's also giving me greater flexibility to build interfaces that are generated after the program has been run: more on this later...

Not everything is great:

The syntax can be slightly frustrating which isn't helped by the QT Creator IDE hinting. One of the big issues I am finding is the scope of functions - in javascript, when a function is called, this is binded so you have access to the previous scope. 

Nokia has pushed too much into making this into the mobile space. For example, to access mouse wheel events you have to create your own object and plug this into QML. Additionally there should be at least a repository or references for building common desktop widgets such as combo boxes just to save time and have a more unified interface. 

It's also a point that there will be inconsistency with the overall application user interface. This may not be a problem - it will later be possible to create native looking widgets:

My other complaints are that there aren't enough examples and the documentation is lacking in places which when you get stuck on something it can become slightly time consuming. 

Otherwise I would give Qt Quick a thumbs up and is heading in the right direction!

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