Mandriva the Woolworth’s of the Linux world.

Mandriva is like the Woolworth’s of the Linux world, everyone has heard of it, everyone has visited it, a small amount of people use it, but now it’s probably past saving EVERYONE is lamenting it’s demise.

Mandriva or as some of us remember it Mandrake is in it’s death throes yet again, it would seem they are in financial difficulties and may have to go into liquidation. At the time of writing this post they have had a reprieve till mid February thanks to a donation by the Paris Region Economic Development Agency however their future looks decidedly dicey to say the least.

Mandriva is like the Woolworth’s of the Linux world, everyone has heard of it, everyone has visited it , a small amount of people use it, but now it’s probably past saving EVERYONE is lamenting it’s demise. “So why are you blogging about it Pete?” I’ll tell you why, I saw a story from Slashdot on G+ that was just such utter bollocks I felt the need to vent my spleen.

Released in 1998 and based on Red Hat 5.1 (RH being non proprietary at the time) Mandrake (Mandriva) was probably ahead of it’s time in respect of trying to get people to pay for Linux by running the Mandrake Club. Basically the club, which was closed in 2009, was a paid membership, yearly fee, in bronze, silver or gold, and optional corp status. It gave you access to releases before the public. Members also got access to the Powerpack edition for free, ( 2 releases per year). Powerpack have proprietary drivers, a (legal) DVD player and the offical Adobe reader. It also gave access to dedicated update and download mirrors, meaning better performance, It also provided a closed forum and support, help desk etc. Thereby being amongst the first to offer in effect support contracts for their products.

Like most people Mandriva was always my first choice when offering a Linux distro to a new user until Ubuntu became more stable around 2006 having first hit the streets in 2004 this, from a user stand point, Ubuntu may have been one of the first nails in the Mandriva coffin. Other distributions such as Red Hat focused on the Server and enterprise customer offering business support contracts from around 2003 onwards and also have one of the largest, extensive and professionally recognised training programs within the Linux community today. Canonical, which owns Ubuntu (Or as they like to term it “Canonical is the parent company of Ubuntu.”) has only recently within the last few years started to make some headway in the Server and support market. Mandriva never sought that business model, their aim was to support their desktop user base, this was innovative in that currently pretty much all the distributions leave desktop support to the community via forums and wiki’s.

Even a cursory search will reveal some of the main reasons for Mandriva’s problems have been managerial and poor promotional ability, contrary to the post on slashdot which seems to believe the only way for a successful Linux Distribution business model is to follow Red Hat’s path, Mandriva still has the right idea as nobody is offering an affordable desktop support package. True Mandriva tried it and failed but was that their fault? Or was it just that the community, at that time, was not ready to start paying for something that they had downloaded for free? Times are changing and so is the FOSS user base, maybe there’s still hope for them. My spies tell me there are whispers of a possible Russian deal that maybe brokered at FOSDEM, I certainly hope so.