You may have seen the announcement about DAZ Central recently, DAZ’s new content management app. I’ve had a look at it as soon as I heard it and I thought I’d give you my impressions and opinions about the new software. I’ll also try to answer the question why it even exists, considering that we can already do what it does with other means.
Note that what I’m telling you in this article is based on observations, opinions and speculation rather than insider knowledge or hard facts. Call it “fan fiction” if you will. It’s more about sharing those thoughts and an attempt at explaining the often mysterious and unexplainable.
What is DAZ Central
Simply put, DAZ Central is a launcher application, much like the EPIC Games Launcher, GOG Galaxy or the Steam app (albeit without giving you achievements). Many products have such apps, which usually combine a dedicated web browser with the ability to install items and even launch things from one window. On the one hand such apps try to be helpful, but more importantly they offer less distractions to the user, as well as “sales opportunities”. So rather than us having to bounce between several open applications, and perhaps get confused and distracted, DAZ Central tries to give is a single interface from which to start.
We can install (and uninstall) content, buy products, search the store and our library, manage plugins and have access to external links like the DAZ Blog, DAZ forums and the ever so slightly outdated documentation from 2004 (the one with the incomplete links and missing pictures, the one that doesn’t actually document much at all).
In short: DAZ Central doesn’t do anything new that we can’t already do with the tools we’re already using.
Do we really need a new tool?
You may be wondering why we should use a new DAZ Central toy, if it doesn’t bring anything other than a dedicated web browser and/or launching tool to the table. Do we really need another piece of software on our already densely packed computers? Haven’t we got enough “tools” installed?
Well technically you’re right – WE don’t need that new tool. DAZ on the other hand needs it, and as such they need us to want to use it first. I have a feeling they’re not telling us everything as to why so much work has been spent on building something they wouldn’t need for a future project. I can even wager a guess as to what might be happening, based on an observation that’s been troubling me for the past few years. I’ve talked about this in a 2019 video on my personal channel. You can watch it below, but I’ll also sum up my thoughts on the issue in this article.
The Problem with DAZ Studio 4.x
I don’t want to bore you with how software is written, except for a small detail: if you want to write code once, and then deploy your app onto multiple platforms, you’ll have to use something called a framework. That’s a tool that can make your multi platform life a little easier. DAZ use a framework called Qt (pronounced “cute”), made by The Qt Company. This is why the Mac version of DAZ Studio looks almost identical to the Windows version.
A framework is a collection of softwares and compilers, and as such there comes the point when any such component receives an update. The whole thing has a shelf life, meaning that a certain version is only supported for so many years, until it stops working altogether. Think along the lines of “Windows 7” vs “Windows 10”. While you can still use Windows 7 today, the operating system is no longer supported by Microsoft, and nobody is developing software for it any more. It’s a matter of time until you have to upgrade your system, or it will stop working altogether.
With the Qt framework it’s very similar: anyone building applications with an older version will have to upgrade to a newer version at some point, before it becomes impossible to create applications with it. This is a huge headache, because it’s usually much more difficult to bring existing code across to a new version. Apple are a great example of that: it’s easier to re-write an iOS application from scratch, than it is to update existing code (it’s one of many reasons why I no longer dabble in iOS development).
The Qt Framework Versions
From what I understand, DAZ Studio 4.x is written in Qt 4. That version has been around since 2005. Although Qt 4 has not seen feature updates since 2011, its end of life (EOL) was in late 2015. Users were encouraged to switch to Qt 5 long before then.
I can only haphazard a guess, but it must be extremely difficult building an application as complex as DAZ Studio with an outdated framework that hasn’t received any patches for the last 5 years. Fact is, the rest of the software and operating system moves on fast. I seriously sympathise! At the same time, it’s a bit of a shock to imagine that the future of DAZ Studio is sitting on such thin ice. Not exactly something you want to rely on, considering this thing could fall apart at any moment during development.
Many of you will remember earlier versions of DAZ Studio. When I started, I was using version 2 (which I liked) while version 3 was already in beta. Only a short time after that, DAZ Studio 4.0 was introduced (in three flavours), and what we have today has evolved with minor upgrades into the current 4.12.1 at the time of writing. I can only speculate that DAZ Studio 2.x and 3.x were probably written with Qt 2 and Qt 3 respectively. This would explain why DAZ chose to adopt the (then new) Qt 4 so quickly after the release of DAZ Studio 3.
In fact, porting code to Qt 5 at this point in time is probably a wasted effort, seeing that Qt 6 is said to be released by the end of this year, at which point Qt 5 will probably be phased out soon after that. Might as well re-write the whole thing in Qt 6 and hang on until then.
How does all this relate to DAZ Central
I’m telling you all this because the one new thing about DAZ Central that actually makes sense is that it’s written with the current Qt 5 framework. It is in fact the first ever product released by DAZ in Qt 5, unlike DAZ Studio and Install Manager, which are both written in Qt 4 – and as such are becoming impossible to maintain in the future.
How do I know this? Head over to the DAZ Studio 4.12 install folder and open a little helper tool called Qt Designer. It can create common UI elements that can be bound to code, like sliders and menu items. It can display the Qt version number. Several DLL files in that folder make references to Qt4, while files in the DAZ Central folder make references to Qt 5.
So what does all that mean?
Again this is just a guess, but I have a feeling that DAZ are in a situation where future updates to the current code of DAZ Studio 4.12 are not feasible for much longer (if at all). The same goes for the code base of their Install Manager. DAZ Central appears to be the first foray into a “new age of the software”. You have to start somewhere, right? Perhaps with the easiest application of all, namely the one that brings your content home. So that’s what they appear to have done.
There’s no immediate danger of things completely falling over of course, and INstall Manager will work in parallel to DAZ Central, as well as the integrated install process inside DAZ Studio. The latter still does a fine job for our 3D needs, and we’re still seeing the occasional update (even and including such goodies as the mention of Google Filament real time rendering, a feature that seems to have been pulled from the final release). Besides, what’s built is built, and it will continue to work for as long as the current operating system allows it.
This foray into a new software based on a new framework suggests that DAZ are working on something new in the lab – whatever it may be. I’m guessing it’ll be the next version of DAZ Studio (or a similar application), one that allows for future upgrades. Something that allows us to use the content we’ve bought over the years (wishful thinking), to something that will allow them to sell us more going forward (more realistic). Maybe even something that lets us use our DAZ content more liberally in other applications? One can only dream.
The idea of a new DAZ Studio poses an interesting question for DAZ as a business: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?” The combination of content broker and “software developers by chance” has worked OK in the past, but more out of necessity rather than craft. It is perhaps time to take a long hard look at what DAZ are good at, and what they are perhaps not so good at. Knowing about your limitations gives you a good indication where your energy is best spent in the future.