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The fall and rise of Mandriva Linux

Richard Hillesley ponders the future of Mandriva.

At the same time, Mandrake's commercial rivals, Red Hat and SuSE, made substantial agreements with the likes of IBM and HP to develop and use GNU/Linux systems on their server lines, which gave them a solid financial base from which to grow. The partnerships with suppliers fostered by IBM and HP ensured that Red Hat and SUSE were able to build sustainable business models around their core distributions. Where Red Hat had understood that its primary revenue source would be in subscriptions for high end server software, Mandrake provided server editions but had bet its future on the Linux desktop.

Mandrakesoft's fall from grace was quick and sharp. In July 2001, in a bid to raise funds, MandrakeSoft entered the Paris Euronext free market (March Libre), the French equivalent of an IPO, with an initial offering of 688,480 shares representing 20.28 per cent of the company's capital.

In January 2003, Mandrakesoft had to file for "declaration de cessation des paiements", the French equivalent of Bankruptcy Protection, but had recovered sufficiently by March 2004 to reach an agreement with the courts whereby liabilities of about $5 million would be repaid to creditors over a nine-year period. Staff had to be released and savings were made.

Nonetheless, Mandrakesoft claimed profits of 270,000 euros on revenue of 1.42 million for the fourth quarter of 2003, and redemption seemed to lie around the corner.

The search for stability

By 2008 Mandriva could claim sales of $6.6 million and 46 employees, a substantial reduction in staff from its dotcom heyday. Mandrakesoft had merged with Conectiva, the most successful Linux in South America, and had made several purchases designed to raise its profile in industry.

The merged company had changed its name to Mandriva, and appeared to have the potential to gain a substantial foothold in the Francophone and Latin American markets for Linux. The name change was the result of a trademark dispute with Hearst Corporation, and in a world where name and profile are everything, was yet another setback in a long line of setbacks for Mandriva.

Although Mandrake/Mandriva has remained relatively popular on the desktop, it has been gradually supplanted by the growth of Ubuntu during the last few years.

Mandriva has never been able to equal the publicity and profile attained by Ubuntu, and has tended to float around in the background (at least in the English-speaking world), without the hype and noise of Ubuntu.

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