I'm looking to be able to build GUI applications quickly and painlessly as possible. I'm competent (though not expert, and have no formal training) in C++, but have never used a GUI building toolkit or framework or anything. I am not a professional programmer and am totally inexperienced and ignorant when it comes to building GUI apps. Have spent hours researching trying to figure out what to do; only getting more confused and discouraged though.
Qt and wxWidgets seem like the most popular options for cross-platform apps, though cross-platform isn't necessarily all that important to me; Windows-only is fine if that means the fastest learning curve.
Qt seems cool and the Qt Creator is sweet looking with lots of good demos, except it has its own classes for everything, and I'm not overly keen on learning a bunch of stuff that's only applicable to the Qt platform itself rather than more generally. I suppose I could avoid using the Qt classes except for the GUI stuff where I have to use them, but I have no idea how wise or unwise that would be.
I was thinking Visual Studio would have the smallest learning curve, but when I open a test GUI app, I see a bunch of foreign looking stuff like carats (^) all over the place - I found online that these mean "handles", which I have trouble even understanding the definition or purpose of ("sort of like pointers but not really" is basically how I've read people define them).
I know pretty much nothing about wxWidgets, or how it compares with Qt.
So every option has a big learning curve - and ideally I'd like to know which one minimizes the time you have to spend learning the toolkit/framework itself. Since I'm likely never going to be making money from the programs I create, the time I spend learning a specific toolkit would be pretty costly. I just want to be able to make a functional program using the C++ knowledge I have, but in GUI form. At the moment it seems if I want to make a GUI app, I'd have to spend way more time learning the GUI framework I'd use than writing the functional part of the app itself.
Any input from people wiser and more experienced than me would be appreciated :)
First and foremost, start simple. There's a lot to the subject. If you are finding it hard, don't try and take it in all at once.
Most of the good GUI packages have tutorials. The best advice I can give is that you try each of them, or at least a couple of them. They are the best short introduction you can have to the library you choose and if they are any good they narrow down what you need to absorb at first. That will give you some basis for comparison, because they are each trying to do very similar things (and you will see some of them before you are done), but they have different feels. You will likely find you have a preference for one and that's the one to get serious with. It will also give you a sense of what's hard about GUI programming as separate from the particulars of one package, which, if you have only used one, you won't have seen. Personally I find this sort of knowledge very helpful, because it makes me less intimidated by particulars.
Here's a list of tutorials in one place, though you have likely seen them already:
Second, it sounds to me that you need to get some in depth understanding of the concepts of GUI programming, not just a particular library. Here there is no substitute for a book. I don't know all of them by a long shot, but the best of the bunch will not just teach you the details of a toolkit, they will teach you general concepts and how to use them. Here are some lists to start with though (and once you have titles, Amazon and Stack Overflow will help to pick one):
Third, take advantage of the design tools (Qt Creator, VS's form building and so on). Don't start by trying to read through all the code they generate: get your own small programs running first. Otherwise it's too hard to know what matters for a basic program and what doesn't. The details get lost. Once you've got the basics down though, Do use them as references to learn how to do specific effects. If you can get something to work in the design tools, then you can look at particular code they generate to be able to try on your own hand-written programs. They are very useful for intermediate learning.
I'm not overly keen on learning a bunch of stuff that's only applicable to the Qt platform itself rather than more generally.
I second the comment of GRB here: Don't worry about this. You are going to need to learn a lot specific to the toolkit no matter which toolkit you use. But you will also learn a lot that's general to GUI programming with any of the decent toolkits, because they are going to have to cover a lot of the same ground. Layouts, events, interaction between widgets/controls, understanding timers -- these will come up in any GUI toolkit you use.
However do be aware that any serious GUI package is an investment of time. You will have a much easier time learning a second package if you decide to pick one up, but every large library has its personality and much of your time will be spent learning its quirks. That is, I think, a given in dealing with any complex subject.
I suppose I could avoid using the Qt classes except for the GUI stuff where I have to use them, but I have no idea how wise or unwise that would be.
You do not need most of the non-GUI classes of Qt to use Qt's GUI properly. There are a handful of exceptions (like
QVariant) which you'll need just because the GUI classes use them. I found you can learn those on a case-by-case basis.