Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Ahoy Mandriva! Are you still out there?

Ahoy Mandriva! Are you still out there?

What exactly is happening at Mandriva, the French company that markets a well-known GNU/Linux distribution but seems unable to communicate its position to its users and the public at large?

Given that it makes at least some of its money from selling software and support, the lack of clarity on its position - and subsequent dissemination of that information through the media - could very well affect what prospects it has.

The last official word from the company was on January 30 - a cryptic message that one of the minority shareholders had rejected a proposed financial bailout.

However, it continued, the company's financial situation was better than expected (which tells us exactly nothing) and the search for a solution to keep it alive could thus continue until mid-February.

A post by one of the developers on March 8 said, again in keeping with the best cryptic traditions, "Yes, quick very fresh news: Mandriva still have to solve some complicated problems, but the situation is far more better since yesterday, the main problem is cleared :)

"Atm (at the moment) i'm (sic) asked not to tell too much things, I don't like that, but I uderstand (sic). In a couple of weeks there will be very interesting news. Yeah, i know, you have wait since more than two months, but what I can say is that the future of Mandriva Linux will be really interesting."

But that couple of weeks has gone by and nobody is the wiser. And, in what could be a development either unrelated or related to the blanket of silence hanging over Mandriva, one big user has announced a switch from Mandriva to Ubuntu.

Brazil's National Institute of Information Technology - which is responsible for National Digital Certification, the standard Public Key Infrastructure (ICP-Brazil) - is the organisation that has made the switch.

Brazil is a country that is really big on GNU/Linux. The Ministry of Education had announced a big take-up of Mandriva in December 2010. Whether that will change too is anybody's guess.


Attempts to contact former Mandriva developers have drawn a blank. Either nobody knows or nobody is telling. Open source, it would appear, does not mean open communication.

Back in January, things were a bit clearer. At that time, Mandriva dramatically announcedthat it would have to shut its doors by the 16th because one of its main shareholders had refused to accept a recapitalisation plan.

Chief executive Dominique Loucougain took the trouble to write a two-page letter, explaining that LinLux, formerly known as Occam, had turned down the plan.

He said another investor, Townarea Trading and Investments, had offered to bear the entire €4 million recapitalisation. This recapitalisation was first proposed on September 30 last year; LinLux objected to it at the time because there no contract between Mandriva and a Russian firm, Rosa Labs, which was at the time involved in development of the Mandriva GNU/Linux distribution.

Loucougain wrote that, following this, Rosa and Mandriva had entered into a contract and a fresh meeting of shareholders held on December 5. But at this meeting LinLux, which owns 42 per cent of Mandriva, had rejected both recapitalisation schemes proposed.

One scheme proposed a capital increase of €4 million reserved for two main shareholders, Town Area and LinLux, and reduction of capital of €6.3 million carried by the two.

In the event of either shareholder not agreeing, the capital increase of €4 million was to be reserved only for shareholders who had subscribed to the capital increase, and the reduction of capital of €6.3 million would have to be supported by the two main shareholders.


Mandriva is no stranger to financial problems. In 2003, it filed for bankruptcy and emerged from that state the next year.

In 2008, the company was badly affectedby the global financial crisis and had to jettison all its external contributors.

In June 2010, Mandriva, which was in financial strife and had put itself up for sale, received a fresh lease of life when new investors came to its rescue.

Mandriva is a distribution that began life in the late 90s as Mandrake Linux. It utilised Red Hat Linux as its base but used the KDE desktop environment instead of GNOME; hence it was often called "Red Hat with KDE."

The company was forced to change its name in 2005 after it lost a case filed by Hearst Corporation which had the rights to the Mandrake name. It then became Mandriva; this coincided with its acquisition of Conectiva, another Linux company based in Brazil.

In September 2010, a fork of Mandriva, Mageia, was created. A number of the Mandriva developers have moved to the new distribution.

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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.