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May 11th, 2010

Mandriva Linux Reportedly at Death’s Door

The online rumor mills are spitting out reports that Mandriva, once a rising star in the Linux world, is facing grave financial difficulties. According to rumor, the distro is desperately seeking a buyer and if one isn’t found soon they will close their doors.

As of Monday, the story was being reported on at least a half-dozen sites, all coming from the same source, a short article in French on Mandriva Linux Online, which bills itself as “an unofficial site dedicated to beginners on Mandriva Linux.” The poor quality English translation of the article provided by Google is confusing and somewhat unclear, but it appears that without a cash infusion, Mandriva will not be able to make payroll much longer.

“Since 2008, the financial position of Mandriva is difficult,” the article reads. “This is actually in 2010 that the situation worsens. Now the situation is critical of the publisher. It is now for sale. Two companies are actively discussing with Mandriva, is the company’s British and French LightApp Linagora.”

The article goes on to quote from minutes of Mandriva’s March board meeting:

“The cash position will resolve remaining net salaries at the end of the month, and expenses of consultants and the ‘funding’ Monthly Brazilian subsidiary… The transitional situation currently facing Mandriva led to consider setting up a system to maintain the level of involvement of ‘key men’ of Mandriva so that the current negotiations that would ensure the sustainability of the group lead.”

Since this board meeting was in March, this would mean that the company is already pretty much out of cash and running on empty. If the report is true, we can assume that Mandriva has already reduced staffing to essential personnel only.

On the official Mandriva web site, I could find nothing to indicate the company is under financial duress or that it’s for sell, until I dug deeper and found a discussion board thread by users who seem to be uncertain as to whether this story is merely rumor, actual fact, or something in between.

“Well, after years of using Kubuntu/Windows on dual boot, I finally tried Mandriva about a month ago,” a user named Bullbutter wrote. “Liked it so well that I finally deleted Windows completely. Sure hope the rumor isn’t true. Maybe an admin could find out and reply so that it’s no longer a rumor.”

As far as I could tell, no admin replied, but another user, Skiper, supplied a link to NetMediaEurope as “proof” that the story is not a rumor. Unfortunately, the article by Christophe Lagane cites only unconfirmed reports, which still leaves the matter in limbo.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this is true; Mandriva’s been here before. Back in the days before a lawsuit by the Hearst newspaper chain forced them to change their name from Mandrake to Mandriva, they operated under protection of French bankruptcy laws for a little over a year. However, since emerging from bankruptcy in the spring of 2004, the company had seemed, at least to a casual observer like myself, to be on sound financial footing. Sound enough to acquire Conectiva, a Brazilian Linux distro from South America focused on the enterprise, for $2.3 million cash. Sound enough to also acquire Lycoris, a U.S. based Linux distribution, and Linbox, a Linux enterprise software infrastructure company. The latter deal reportedly cost Mandriva $1.73 million in stock plus up to a half million dollars in cash.

Mandrake/Mandriva was (and is) known as an easy-to-use Linux distribution. In 1998, when the company was founded, the Linux operating system had a reputation of being difficult to install and set up, especially for the non computer savvy user. Mandrake/Mandriva changed that, offering an installer that made installing Linux as easy as installing Windows. The installer also came with an easy to use disk partitioning tool to allow users to install the operating system alongside Windows. In addition, the distro allowed settings to be configured graphically via point-and-click instead of by modifying configuration files in a command line, which had been the norm in Linux.

Because of this, Mandrake/Mandriva quickly became popular with both Linux newbies and experienced users. From it’s birth until about 2005, Mandrake/Mandriva was nearly always touted on Linux web sites as one of the five “best” Linux distributions. In recent years, however, the distribution seemed to have lost some of it’s fan base, partially due to the rise in popularity of Ubuntu, another easy-to-use distribution.

Even as Mandriva began to settle into relative obscurity, new releases continued to garner good reviews, and in the last year or so the distro seemed to be making something of a comeback. In February of this year, Techsource named Mandriva as the second best Linux distribution of the decade, behind trendy Ubuntu.

If Mandriva does fail, fans of the OS might want to try PCLinuxOS, which began as a fork of Mandrake Linux 9.2.

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

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