Mandriva Strives to Win Business, Desktop Users

The popular French Linux distribution has made it back from the financial edge and is now pushing hard into the enterprise and desktop markets.

Mandriva SA has long had its Linux fans, but its recently been turning its efforts toward the business and desktop markets and, if CEO François Bancilhon has anything to do with it, Mandriva will become as big a Linux name as Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc. in the enterprise.

It wasnt that long ago, Bancilhon said in an exclusive Ziff Davis Internet interview, that Mandriva was in serious financial hot water. The Paris-based Linux distributor had filed for the French equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

"We made lots of mistakes in the Internet bubble days, when I joined in 2002; it was the worst of days. [However, the] company was back in the black by 2003-4 and its profitable today."

Mandriva made it back the hard way: by cutting expenses to the bone.

Today, the company has approximately 130 employees with most of them in France and Brazil. With a market cap of about 35 million Euros and quarterly revenues of approximately 5.5 million Euros, Mandriva is now fiscally stable.

So it is that the company has been expanding. In past months, Mandriva has acquired major Brazilian Linux distributor Conectiva and the popular U.S. Linux desktop distribution Lycoris.

The point of these acquisitions has been to make Mandriva, formerly Mandrakesoft, a stronger, global Linux player and to improve its Linux desktop offerings.

To back this up, Mandriva has recently inked deals with Intel Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., Bancilhon said. "We now feel that were an equal player with Red Hat Inc., Novell Inc. and Red Flag Software Co. Ltd. [a major Chinese Linux distributor]."

In particular, Bancilhon said, "Downstream, Intel is very interested in Linux desktop, and Mandriva is working on them. Intel believes that 10 percent of all Intel desktop shipments by the end of 2010 will be running Linux."

The French company recently released its newest desktop, Mandriva 2006. Its now available both as a commercial product and as a free download.

In addition, Mandriva recently released a novel new desktop version: a portable USB-based hard drive. The "GlobeTrotter" boots Mandriva Linux LE 2005, and is available in 40GB and 80GB models priced at $140 and $199. With it, users can plug in a full Linux desktop on any modern PC.

While Mandriva is focusing now on the business market, "Were not going to let our installed base down," Bancilhon said.

"Our Club [Mandrivas end-user subscription service] is continuing to move nicely."

Looking to business customers, Bancilhon said Mandrivas main selling point is that it positions itself as a "full solution provider, not just a box seller."

"Most business customers want customized solutions, and thats what we give them," he said.

Bancilhon said he sees this as a real advantage over both Red Hat, which Bancilhon said is Mandrivas main competition 90 percent of the time, and Novell.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about Mandrivas goals for the Linux desktop market.

Additionally, he said, "Most customers hate per-box licensing, so we mostly use site licensing. Whether a business uses 10, 000 or 12,000 desktops, we dont care. We license the site and make our revenue from maintenance and support."

Mandrivas business and desktop sales are growing quickly, according to Bancilhon. In the coming year, he said he sees major growth in the U.S. and Canadian markets as well as the BRIK (Brazil, Russia, India and Korea) countries.

Bancilhon mentioned in particular that he expects to be able to announce a major banking deal. In that agreement, the customer will be moving from Windows to Linux on 12,000 desktops at its branch offices.

Most of these sales are done directly. Mandriva has channel partners in some Eastern European countries, "but before we move into the channel in United States we need to do more work," Bancilhon said.

Mandriva is finding that companies that have committed to Linux on its servers are now moving to Linux on the desktop to cut costs, he said.

To fuel this growth, Bancilhon said, Mandriva may announce another merger or acquisition in the next six months. The company is looking at both local distributions and for Linux service companies.

Mandriva will also be hiring. In particular, the company is looking to the United States and Brazil, where, Bancilhon said, "There is remarkable software engineering talent."

/zimages/5/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.