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The decision taken by Mandriva SA, the French company that produces the Mandriva GNU/Linux distribution, to base its workstation and server products on two different codebases is a pragmatic one, based on the state of the two codebases.

But it is also a political decision because by deciding to have two upstreams, it is trying to humour those who split away nearly two years ago and keep them inside the tent.

Mandriva has been in the wars for many years. The most recent turn of events saw the company being put up for sale and then, after some effort, desperately trying to turn things around so that it could start to pull itself out of bankruptcy.

It made a start to resolving the mess by deciding to hand over responsibility for development to the community.

But this decision did not placate those developers who forked the codebase in 2010 to create a distribution called Mageia. They would not have any part of this and said so.

As a means of keeping them involved, Mandriva has decided to base its server distribution on the Mageia codebase. This obviously indicates that it is more mature and stable, not surprising given that the bulk of the developers moved out along with the fork.

The workstation distribution will be based on the old Mandriva codebase. By doing so, the company is admitting that this codebase is less ready for prime time.

Mandriva is also seeking to placate the Mageia community by saying it plans to help the project monetarily.

An independent foundation will be created to run the Mandriva distribution. By letting the community have responsibility, the company will get a lot of development done for nothing. It will also be able to provide financial aid to those who need the help.

One thing peculiar to Linux distributions is the fact that users want to get involved. At times, it is not possible to involve outsiders, especially when the product is being created by a company. This tends to put people offside.

Red Hat and SUSE solved this issue by creating community distributions, Fedora and OpenSUSE, respectively. A great deal of the development in these projects later feeds into the company's distribution, the so-called enterprise product. In return, the users have a sense of involvement. They also get a distribution that is more bleeding-edge than any company-created distribution would be.

Linux users have always wanted to enjoy a symbiotic relationship with their distribution of choice and both Red Hat and SUSE have done the right thing.

But neither company has ever attempted anything so ambitious as maintaining two upstream projects. Of course, neither firm was in the position that Mandriva found itself.

The French company has made a choice that will take it into interesting channels, if nothing else.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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