Mandriva Aims to Become Linux-Desktop Player

Mandriva, the former Mandrake, is expanding rapidly, but analysts are unconvinced that it can do so fast enough to catch up with the Red Hat and Novell/SuSEs of the world.

Mandriva, with the recent purchase of Lycoris, a U.S. Linux desktop distributor, is expanding rapidly, but analysts ask whether its growing fast enough to compete with the major Linux vendors: Red Hat and Novell/SuSE.

The French Linux distributor Mandriva SA, the former Mandrakesoft, has been acquiring other Linux companies in the last few months.

In February, the company acquired Brazilian Linux distributor, Conectiva SA. Then, in June, Mandriva acquired Lycoris, makers of a Linux home-user desktop distribution and a Linux distribution for tablet-based PCs.

/zimages/3/28571.gifRead more here about Mandrivas acquisition of Linux-desktop provider Lycoris.

While François Bancilhon, CEO of Paris-based Mandriva, has said about the Conectiva acquisition that the goal is to "have a strong worldwide presence that well continue to extend," some analysts see small Linux companies struggling to survive.

Dan Kusnetzky, IDCs system software vice president, said he sees these moves as an attempt to stave off financial failure.

According to Kusnetzky, all three of the companies have struggled financially. Indeed, Mandrakesoft emerged from bankruptcy protection in April 2004 with a plan to repay its debts over the next nine years.

More recently, Conectiva and Mandrake have both posted small profits. Lycoris, however, had been unable to find capital and, by the time of the acquisition, was down to only one employee: Joseph Cheek, its founder.

Mandriva is using these acquisitions both to bolster its desktop offerings and to become a global enterprise-Linux player. The company recently released both a server and a desktop for the business market.

While technically, the Mandrakelinux Corporate Server 3.0 does well, it doesnt have the same breadth of enterprise hardware and software support certifications of rival corporate-targeted distributions from Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read an eWEEK Labs review of Mandrakelinux Corporate Server 3.0.

Indeed, Stacey Quandt, principal analyst at Quandt Analytics, said, "Mandriva does not compete directly with Red Hat [Inc.] or Novell [Inc.] in the enterprise Linux market."

Still, "since most industry watchers tend to focus on the initiatives of Red Hat and Novell—the leaders in the enterprise Linux market—it is easy to forget that Mandriva has an installed base in the small-to-medium business and research organizations," Quandt said.

Quandt described the Lycoris acquisition as a good move for Mandriva, it being "a further step toward strengthening Mandrivas Linux desktop offering."

Kusnetzky said he isnt so sure.

"Until now, Linux has had a very small share of the desktop operating-environment market—a 2.6 percent share of worldwide shipments of client operating-environment software in 2004. It appears that the focus of this acquisition is increasing the companys share of that market," Kusnetzky said.

"Its not clear that they have the marketing money to push aside Red Hat and Novell in the minds of the small segment of the market that is considering Linux as a desktop operating environment," he said.

Gordon Haff, senior analyst for Illuminata Inc., also said that its "hard to see Mandriva becoming at least a major [Linux] business/enterprise player—especially in the United States."

Its Red Hat, though, not Novell, that Haff sees as the challenge, he said: "Even Novell doesnt seem to be having much luck in significantly growing the SuSE Linux presence—though one can ask how hard they are really trying."

"In addition, ISVs as a group have made it pretty clear that theyre willing to certify a very limited number of distros—and that certification is a major reason for explicitly enterprise distros in the first place. Its hard to see what Mandriva brings to a crowded table that earns it a seat," Haff said.

Mandriva, has, however tried to address the problem of ISV support by the LCC (Linux Core Consortium). This is an industry association devoted to creating a standardized Linux on the foundation of the LSB (Linux Standard Base) 2.0. The group is made up of three companies: Mandriva, Japans Turbolinux Inc. and the United States Progeny Linux Systems Inc.

Like the long-dead UnitedLinux, the LCC seeks to create a standardized Linux that will make it easier for ISVs and OEMs to support Linux with their products. This will make Linux more attractive to developers and vendors by simplifying ISV/OEM certifications with an industry-supported LSB reference implementation.

However, since the LCCs founding in November 2004, the group has not announced any progress on its goals.

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