Behind the New Mandriva
Stabilizing Customer Loyalty
By Jacqueline Emigh
Citing desires for both a "new identity" and an end to possible legal liability, Mandrakesoft changed its name to "Mandriva" last week, not long after announcing a merger with Conectiva and many details of a future product roadmap. But with some members of the Linux community unhappy about the changes, the newly combined company also plans to accommodate developers and power users with software releases outside yearly product releases, plus a new Web-based contest that will reward "Mandriva" evangelists with laptops and other prizes.
"We are prepared to hear that some people don't like the new name. It's very natural to dislike things that we aren't used to yet," said Ga�l Duval, a company spokesperson, during a Q&A wth LinuxPlanet that also delved into the Mandrakesoft/Conectiva merger and resulting product roadmap.
Under the merger, approved by shareholders on March 30, French-based Mandrakesoft purchased all the stock of Conectiva, a Brazilian-based Linux distributor that was once one of the four founding members of the ill-fated UnitedLinux industry consortium--along with Turbolinux of Japan; SUSE Linux, which has since been purchased by Novell; and The SCO Group, a company that's no longer a Linux distributor, to put it mildly.
Why did Mandrakesoft buy Conectiva, anyway? Duval told LinuxPlanet that the biggest driver was a desire to extend the company's user base into Latin America.
But, in a written statement unveiling the "Mandriva" name on April 7, Mandrakesoft pointed to two reasons for the name change: a name that better reflects the combined identity of Mandrakesoft and Conectiva, and a decision to eliminate any liability stemming from a long-standing lawsuit with Hearst Corporation over the Mandrake trademark.
In 2003, a French court ruled that Mandrakesoft's use of the names Mandrake and Linux-Mandrake--as well as associated Internet domain names--infringed on Hearst's trademark rights around the "Mandrake le Magicien" ("Mandrake the Magician") comic book character. Mandrakesoft had since appealed the case.
During the interview with LinuxPlanet this week, Duval said that Mandrakesoft's traditional customer base is made up mainly of "individual users who want to get away from [Microsoft] Windows, and corporate users who need rock solid solutions."
"This is mostly in the USA and Europe for now, although our online store regularly ships products to more than 150 countries in the world. We will just extend this user base more to Brazil and South America, which show a nice potential for Linux and Open Source software," he added.
Meanwhile, in its future roadmap, issued as a press release on March 21, Mandrakesoft rolled out plans to move to an annual release model for its new software products, citing requests from many end users and distributors.
But Duval told LinuxPlanet that, beyond the confines of the product roadmap, the company will provide several mechanisms for keeping developers and power users current with the latest features.
"It seems that distributors and resellers prefer products with a longer product-life. Also, regular users--both individual and corporate--prefer not to have to update their systems too often. We think that once a year is enough, and we've heard that many users are happy with that," Duval said.
"With longer [product] release cycles, we can have longer test cycles, which will generally mean that more bugs can be fixed. But the main benefit will be more time time to concentrate on new technology and features to add to our products."
How would the company respond to complaints from users who believe the new product release schedule will prevent the software from being up-to-date?
"This is not true for three reasons. First, our Cooker development platform is updated on a daily basis. As a result, we always have the latest versions of software available in Cooker," Duval responded.
Second, the plans call for regular release of "special, up-to-date releases" to contributors and club members. "So with the new release scheme, they will actually get more versions than before," he said.
"Third, for power users, we will certainly perhaps release snapshots of Cooker through Community releases, more than once a year," according to Duval.
Also under the roadmap announced on March 21, the Linux company will migrate to a new product naming scheme, with the first release under this new model--named "2006"--slated for release in the fall of 2005, and a "transitional" version - dubbed "Limited Edition"--targeted at this spring.
The Limited Edition--which will include KDE 3.3, GNOME 2.8, and Firefox 1.0.1--is scheduled for availability as a DVD and CD set through the company's online store and club, and as a download--but not through retail channels.
Duval said that the downloadable version of the company's software will probably remain available as a free download to club members and contributors, even as the company moves into the new naming model.
"The free downloadable version is released to club members and ontributors before the public. It's natural that people who contribute with time or money should receive some advantages," he elaborated.
"The free download version will remain available unless we replace all our free software with proprietary software, which is unlikely to happen. Additionally, I'd like to highlight the fact that our download version conforms to the FSF (Free Software Foundation) definition of Free Software. It's pure FOSS (Free Open Source Software)."
Future integration between the Mandrakesoft and Conectiva Linux product line-ups made up another part of the roadmap announcement. But Duval told LinuxPlanet that specifics around the integration are still being ironed out.
"We don't have many details yet on this topic, since it's still under evaluation. But we should see Conectiva's Smart package manager appear, for instance, in conjunction with [the existing] URPMI, which is a tool that Mandrakelinux users just love. Smart is capable of dealing with both RPM and DEB packages," Duval said.
How did the combined company come up with "Mandriva" as its name? Many alternatives were considered, according to Duval. "But we wanted something in line with the former names 'Mandrake' and 'Conectiva,' and we thought Mandriva was the name with the best potential," Duval said.
"It will take time and energy from us to have people directly identify 'Mandriva' with the Linux distribution they use and love," he acknowledged. "But on the other hand, we think that since the logo remains the same and since 'Mandriva' roughly looks like 'Mandrake,' it will be easier than if we'd chosen something radically different."
Through a new contest, people who are the most helpful in spreading the "Mandriva" name will be eligible to win prizes, including new laptops, Duval told LinuxPlanet.