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Mandriva aims to take on Red Hat, Novell


Mandriva Linux, known as Mandrakesoft eight months ago, has had quite a year. The Paris-based company believes it’s ready to bounce back into the race to capture international market share from competitors such as Red Hat and Novell. Only 18 months ago, the company was in the throes of bankruptcy. Now, CEO Francois Bancilhon suggests the company is ready to rid the world of the “RH/SUSE duopoly.”

Bancilhon told CRN’s Paula Rooney last week that although his company “tanked” after the dot-com bubble burst, it is now building a comeback based on its new product line and its acquisition of two commercial Linux distributions, Conectiva and Lycoris.

“We’re back in black,” he said, referring to a recent IDC report showing Mandriva as the No. 3-ranked distributor of Linux worldwide, behind Red Hat and SUSE with between 6 million and 8 million users, according to the CRN story.

Mandriva is known for its intuitive, attractive desktop design and wide international support; the operating system is available in more than 70 languages.

Out of bankruptcy

Mandrakesoft emerged from bankruptcy in March 2004 following a year of redressement judiciaire, the French equivalent of US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Under the terms of its debt restructure, the company committed to repaying creditors an estimated 4.1 million Euros (US $5 million, at the time) over a nine-year period.

“The turnaround was done in 2003, it was done ‘the hard way,’ by decreasing expenses, reorganizing the company and increasing revenue,” Bancilhon told in an email. “Non-profitable activities were stopped, and those [that were] almost profitable were improved or fixed. We also went through a Chapter 11 procedure, which blocked all the creditors for 14 months. Since then, we have raised more money and repaid most of the creditors.”

2005 has been a year of upgrading its bread-and-butter product and making partnership deals. Mandriva released its 2006 version Nov. 3, receiving a good response from users and reviewers. It made a major deal with Dell in September to produce pre-loaded Linux laptops in France.

Only last month, hard drive vendor LaCie teamed up with Mandriva to create a bus-powered USB 2.0 hard drive preloaded with desktop Linux. The GlobeTrotter boots Mandriva Linux LE 2005, and is available in 40GB and 80GB models.

Analysts skeptical following acquisitions

Mandriva acquired two struggling commercial distributions — Conectiva, in February, and Lycoris, in June. The two companies’ products were then melded into Mandriva’s product set, giving the company further reach into both the North American and South American markets.

Following the Lycoris acquision, analysts were skeptical about Mandriva’s chances for success despite its expansion plans, questioning whether it was growing too slowly to compete with Red Hat and Novell/SUSE. But Bancilhon said he believes the strategy has worked thus far because the products have been well-received, according to the CRN article.

Mandriva now faces a new challenge, however, from South Africa-based Ubuntu, which in the last year has turned many heads in the open source community.

Alternative to “RH/SUSE duopoly”

How does Mandriva hope to catch up in market share to Red Hat, SUSE, and new competitiors, such as Ubuntu?

“We have a dual focus: on individual users and the Linux community — this is our traditional customer base, and we’re not competing with Red Hat or SUSE on this part; and on large organizations — this is a new target we started addressing 30 months ago, by developing a new product line, by putting in place a support and consulting organization, and by starting direct sales,” Bancilhon told

“On this second line, we sometimes find ourselves competing with Red Hat or SUSE (more rarely). We do so by: (1) providing full solutions (products + technology + services); (2) by being aggressively priced; (3) by having a flexible license scheme (many users hate the per-box subscription mode); (4) by the quality of our administration tools,” Bancilhon continued.

“Two years ago, I did not believe we could compete, but the proof is in the pudding: We keep winning large migration deals. The world needs an alternative to the RH/SUSE duopoly,” he added.

A version of this story first appeared in DesktopLinux.

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