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Mandriva's Future May Be Debian

Taking on the Global Market One Location at a Time

  • June 20, 2005
  • By Brian Proffitt

While some in the Linux community are scratching their heads over the latest acquisition by Mandriva, one prominent member has a notion what the French distribution company is doing, and wholeheartedly approves.

Ian Murdock, Chairman and Chief Strategist of Progeny, has a good idea where Mandriva may be heading with their recent string of acquisitions, most notably their merger with Conectiva Linux in February and last week's acquisition of Lycoris' assets. Murdock belives that Mandriva is in the beginning stages of pushing themselves into the global Linux market, currently dominated by Red Hat, Inc. and Novell, but not by taking on the two big players on their own terms.

Murdock, asked to comment on the latest Mandriva acquisition, was very positive towards Mandriva's moves. Thus far, he explained, Red Hat and SUSE have approached the sales and marketing of their non-traditional open source wares in a decidely traditional way. Red Hat is seeking to expand their business through more and more international markets through the creation of global offices and research centers. Through Novell, SUSE is capitalizing on Novell's already-present international infrastructure and is seeking to expand into Novell's existing sales channels.

While these traditional methods seem to be working for Red Hat and SUSE/Novell, Murdock sees it as a "fundamental mismatch with how people see Linux." The two-player dominance has also made it increasingly difficult for other players, such as Mandriva, to make a strong entrance into this crowded global market, particularly, Murdock added, if Mandriva tries to compete on Red Hat's and Novell's terms.

"You have No. 2 [SUSE] trying to compete with No. 1 [Red Hat] on their terms, and it's not going that well. Why would you come in and try to compete with No. 2 in the same way?" Murdock said in an interview with LinuxPlanet.

Instead, Murdock believes, Mandriva is trying to capitalize on Linux' enormous successes on the smaller, localized level. By acquiring smaller, technically successful companies in various parts of the world, Mandriva will be able to enhance its technical infrastructure while at the same time tapping into burgeoning global markets--one local market at a time.

Murdock indicated the "recent explosion" of Linux use in the Spanish region of Extremadura, where the regional government has provided schools and citizens with enormous access to Linux and open source technology. Extremadura's Linux, known as LinEx, is a Debian GNU/Linux distribution that has been distributed via 80,000 CDs to the Spanish region considered to be the poorest in that nation.

The opportunities this Debian-based distribution has provided the region, Murdock cited, have been phenomenal. It is this kind of local success that makes Murdock believe that many of the smaller Linux distributions are "an untapped gold mine" for a company like Mandriva to come along and incorporate into their infrastructure.

But, Murdock emphasized, there is a catch. While Mandriva could continue to acquire as they have been doing, Murdock does not believe that they will be able to do so for long "without making Debian a part of their story." In fact, the founder of Debian believes that Mandriva cannot succeed without using Debian technology.

Debian GNU/Linux has enjoyed a strong surge in popularity of late, as many commercial distributions that have captured the public eye, such as Linspire, Xandros, Ubuntu, and Progeny's Debian Linux, are all Debian-based. The recent announcement of the Sarge stable release has only kindled further interest in the non-commercial Linux distribution.

Murdock believes that soon Mandriva will need to continue its strategy of acquiring successful international distributions by incorporating one or more of these Debian-based distributions. For a distribution that was originally based on Red Hat Linux, such a move would certainly be huge leap. Given the success of Debian and the recent arrival of Sarge, Murdock thinks that now is the perfect time for Mandriva to consider moving to a Debian-based technology.

But, given the technologies involved, can Mandriva make that jump?

"Not only can they do it, my assertion is if they don't do it, they can't survive," Murdock said.

Murdock sees that such an investiture in Debian technology would be a huge win for the Debian Project, as well. Recent successes notwithstanding, Murdock has concerns for the next 12-18 months of Debian's life cycle. He has been publicly outspoken on the need to improve Debian's release cycle process and on the need to keep the development "center of gravity" within the Debian Project and not letting it shift to the currently successful projects such as Ubuntu.

"Debian has an enormous opportunity in front of it," Murdock stated, if it can remain the center of Debian-based development. Having such a free, non-commercial center would be a strong selling point for any company to use Debian, he added, including Mandriva. Keeping Debian's core non-commercial would prevent any temptations to specialize the core code into something only one distributor could use.

One such benefit could be the re-establishment of Debian as the central Linux Standard Base distribution, something that was originally intended when Bruce Perens initially proposed the LSB. The LSB, Murdock feels, has been weakened by other commercial distros' lack of full participation.

Given Progeny's ties to Debian, it begs the question: would Progeny be receptive to a business overture from Mandriva?

"Their overall strategy, what they're doing now, makes a lot of sense to me," Murdock replied noncommittally. "To start to tell Debian as part of their story, [Mandriva's] going to need to talk to Debian companies."

While Murdock would not comment directly on a stronger future Progeny-Mandriva business relationship, it is important to note that the two companies already have a relationship already, as two of the three members of the Linux Core Consortium (LCC), an organization that, like the former UnitedLinux, hopes to standardize their Linux offerings to present a united front to independent software vendors.

With Mandriva and Progeny already in the LCC (with TurboLinux), the technological gap may not be as wide as it used to be, and could make a potential Mandriva/Progeny partnership a real possibility.

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