Can new management and a new, community-centric open source approach rescue Mandriva from bankruptcy? Initially called Mandrake Linux, it was one of the early trailblazers of the open source revolution. Based on an early version of Red Hat, but with a KDE user interface, it became especially popular in France and emerged as a distribution in its own right. After merging with Brazil's Conectiva in 2004, it was renamed Mandriva and continued to be a key player in the European Linux market.
But by the start of this decade, it was in serious trouble after an acrimonious split with its founder. While popular in Latin America, Mandriva's star was small and dim next to Red Hat on the server, SUSE in Europe and Ubuntu on the desktop. Instead of falling back on its community, the company fell out with them. The result was a popular fork to create the Mageia distribution. Despite triggering this righteous uprising, Mandriva failed to make its numbers and fell into bankruptcy, surviving only at the grace of certain investors and the French government.
Fast-forward to today, and a new strategy. With a fresh injection of cash both from the Paris regional government and from Swiss investor Jean-Manuel Croset (among others, including a significant Russian investor), the company is making up with its community and making bold plans for the future. Croset has taken over as CEO and has fresh, pragmatic ideas about how Mandriva can rise like a phoenix from the ashes of past mismanagement. He's brought OpenOffice and LibreOffice community veteran Charles-Henri Schulz on board as marketing manager to drive a renewal of community relations - a positively received development. You can watch my interview with them:
What's going to change? Quite a bit. First of all, Mandriva plans to start a new Mandriva Linux Foundation so that the technology has a new, independent home, coupled to but broadly independent from the fate of Mandriva the company. Driven by a community-based workgroup and with open conversations, this is a crucial step to re-establishing the trust squandered by the previous management of the company in their attempts to secure control.
Even more significantly, Mandriva is facing up to the reality of the Mageia fork. Recognising that a "one size fits all" approach isn't going to work, Croset and his team have decided to rework Mandriva's products on the upstream technologies that make the most sense on a case-by-case basis.
That means the desktop and OEM products will be based on the Mandriva Linux distribution (newly anchored in an independent Foundation), while the server products will be based on the Mageia Linux distribution, with contributions upstream to that community. While this isn't the most elegant strategy, it is both pragmatic and workable. Moreover, it is probably the only approach that can work if the community is eventually to be reunited.
An old saying asserts "If I was going where you're going, I wouldn't start from here". Mandriva's new management are starting from where they are, taking the road less travelled through community engagement. In the meshed society, the path to success with community-based projects is to build trust and reputation.
Unlike the previous leaders of the company, Croset and Schulz seem to have a good grasp of the importance of influence and the false promise of control, and to be actively trading control for influence. I believe this is a wise path and I wish them - and the Mandriva and Mageia communities - the very best.