When LWN last looked in
April 2012, the Mandriva community was in an uncertain state. Information
was sparse, and those involved were being cautious about what they said in
public. Four months later the caution remains, but the general outline of
events has become clearer, even if the details remain vague. It now appears that
Mandriva S.A., the company behind the commercial distribution, is turning over development of
the code to a community foundation, in which it and ROSA are the main supporters, at least
partly in the hopes of winning back community support.
Four months ago, Mandriva S. A. was known to be in financial trouble and
considering its options. On the mailing list for Cooker, Mandriva's
development repository, rumors
were flying about a dispute between Mandriva and ROSA (see below), and an
accusation was made that ROSA was poaching Mandriva employees. A major
concern was that this dispute would prevent the cooperation necessary to
create a foundation for the Mandriva code, which most observers seemed to
think was overdue.
Today, that dispute has been settled, at least publicly. However, its
causes remains uncertain. Konstantin Kochereshkin, PR Manager for ROSA Lab,
would say only that, "Those disagreements have now been
Jean-Manuel Croset, the new CEO of Mandriva S.A. was not much more
Perhaps the biggest mistake being done when looking at
the situation is to believe that Mandriva SA and ROSA is the same entity;
this is not the case, we are two different companies. We share some
shareholders, but neither ROSA nor Mandriva SA have any participation in
each other's company.
This statement could suggest any
number of origins and outcomes for the dispute while supporting none for
Whatever the nature of the disagreement, both Mandriva and ROSA remain
reluctant to give details, and currently both are emphasizing that they are
cooperating with each other. According to Kochereshkin, the attacks on ROSA
in the Cooker thread were made by a Russian competitor, not anyone with any
connection with Mandriva S. A., and "his posts are just not
Similarly, Croset stresses that Mandriva was "[not] the ones who made
these accusations, nor do we feel raided in any way by ROSA." He
went on to state that today, "cooperation is good" between
Mandriva and ROSA.
Restructuring in the corporation and the community
The last four months have also seen major changes in the organization of
the Mandriva community. To start with, on April 30, Mandriva
S.A. shareholders approved a recapitalization
strategy. Details of this strategy have not been made public — according
to Croset because of non-disclosure agreements and a wish not to dwell
on the past.
The most that Croset would say about Mandriva in the past was that
"the main problem was that too many resources were invested in the
desktop and too little in our other product lines. The structure was also a
little bit too loose." However, Croset did indicate that, in the
future, Mandriva will move away from efforts to sell the distribution
— an effort that most commercial distributions abandoned over a
decade ago — and adopt a mixed services and server-based business
model similar to that of Canonical or Red Hat. Croset describes this
reorganization as being about 75% complete.
In pursuit of that reorganization, Mandriva has hired five new employees in
the last few months. The most prominent of the new hires is Charles
Schulz, a former employee of MandrakeSoft (Mandriva's former name). Schultz
is best known as a co-founder and member of the board of directors for The Document Foundation, the
organization behind LibreOffice.
Hired as Director of Community, Schulz's first task has been the creation
of the Mandriva Foundation to oversee the community development of the
code. Schulz met with stakeholders in Paris on June 19 to begin
organization of the foundation.
Schulz also posted a poll
to rename the foundation's distribution, explaining that "Mandriva" would
remain the name for the distribution used by Mandriva S.A. in its
products. Originally, the poll was supposed to close in one week, but, six
weeks later, it remains open with "Mandala Linux" and "Open Mandriva" being
the top choice. The final decision on the name is due in September.
According to Croset, the structure of the Mandriva Foundation (or whatever
its final name becomes), and the extent to which it will be controlled by
Mandriva S.A. are still being determined. However, Schulz's diagram
of the foundation's proposed structure suggests that ROSA and Mandriva
S.A. are being considered as the major corporate members and distributions
involved, with derivative distributions like Unity Linux involved, but with less
input or control.
What the diagram does not make clear is the role envisioned in the
foundation for the Mandriva community. Considering some of the
dissatisfaction in the community over Mandriva's past stewardship of the
code, the community's role may be the main reason for the time needed to
organize the foundation, which currently lacks a web site as well as a
final name. With all the distrust that has developed in the last couple of
years, community members might be determined to limit the role of
commercial interests before they agree to participate.
Certainly a notable absence in the diagram is Mageia, the distribution
founded by former Mandriva employees and community members in September
2010 with the declaration
that, "We do not trust the plans of Mandriva S.A. any more and we
don't think the company (or any company) is a safe host for such a
These sentiments do not appear to have changed in the last two years;
if Mageia had any interest in the foundation, Patricia Fraser, Mageia's
marketing communications team leader, replied,
Mageia doesn't have any ties to the Mandriva Foundation, or any form of
Mandriva; Mageia.org is a completely separate organization. Our governance
rules have been carefully formulated to make sure that Mageia is and
remains a community-based and community-driven project, with no corporate
oversight or obligations.
Since Mageia.org is already registered as a non-profit, merging with the
Mandriva Foundation would naturally be difficult. Fraser's reply
suggests that the major fork in the Mandriva code base is likely to
continue. Croset had announced in a
podcast that Mandriva S.A. would use Mageia for its server products,
but, Fraser's comment would seem to preclude any cooperative development of
Mageia within the Mandriva Foundation.
Whether other community members have the same reluctance is uncertain since
the initial organization work is happening in private. However, if they do, then
the time needed to organize the Mandriva Foundation would be even more
Under the ROSA
In the middle of these reorganizations, ROSA has appeared as something of a
wild card, a relative newcomer about which little is known.
According to co-founder Dmitry Komissarov, ROSA is another mixed community-
corporate venture — a combination that he believes necessary to make
free and open source software a going concern in Russia. It includes ROSA Lab, a subsidiary that has been the
most public aspect of the company, that is "focused on research and
new technologies development [and] should become a base for future ROSA
co-founded five technology companies in the last decade — many of
which appear to be quite small, since although he lists them as still
active, they lack any website. He was also on the board of Mandriva between
August 2010 and October 2011.
ROSA itself has some 100 employees, having increased its size four times
since it was founded. Those employees include Deputy CEO Vladimir Rubanov, a director
at the Linux Verification Center that has done some work with the Linux Standard Base and
R&D Director Eugene Sokolov, who started the now-defunct Linux XP
distribution. The company has also employed Jeff Johnson, the maintainer of
RPM5, apparently on a contractual basis.
ROSA's first and so far only released product is the free-licensed ROSA
Marathon, a long term support distribution based on Mandriva which has
attracted attention for its innovations on the KDE desktop.
These innovations include a fixed bottom panel whose task bar displays open
windows as icons, a full-screen menu window
with a timeline for locating recently used applications and customizable
previews of documents and downloads. In addition, ROSA Marathon features
some minor tweaking of the Dolphin file manager and ROSA Media Player,
which supports both audio and video, and ROSA Sync, which configures a
A commercial distribution, ROSA Desktop 2012, is scheduled for release by
the end of 2012. ROSA is also developing products for mobile devices and a
cloud storage service.
Whatever the past causes for friction with Mandriva S.A., at this point
ROSA is acting as a major player in the unfolding events. Kochereshkin
talked of how ROSA will "work jointly" with Mandriva S.A. in
the foundation and how "ROSA and Mandriva met as peer members"
Some community members may still be unsure what to make of ROSA, but these
references suggest that either ROSA wants to become a major player or else
has already become one. A logical inference would be that part of the delay
in finalizing the reorganization is the negotiating of exactly what ROSA's
position will be.
This summary raises almost as many questions as it answers. Mandriva
S.A. has yet to disclose its investors or anything beyond its general directions
for the future. Nor is it clear yet how the foundation will be organized
and governed, and whether community interests will have an equal voice with
Looking into the future, you might also ask: can Mandriva S.A. turn its
troubled fortunes around? Moreover, can any structure for the foundation
unite all those working with the Mandriva code base, or are the divisions
too deep to overcome?
At this point, the apparent slowness of the reorganization could indicate
that key aspects are difficult and likely to be only partially
successful. Anybody who has been involved in corporate decision-making can
appreciate the reluctance to complicate ongoing negotiations with premature
publicity, but, combined with the slowness of results, at some point the
reticence may help to create an impression that difficulties are being
hidden precisely because those trying to solve them are floundering.
You have to wonder, too, whether greater transparency would help to improve
relationships with the community. However, obligations to shareholders may
make transparency impractical. Very likely, too, community distrust runs
too deeply in some places to be overcome quickly, no matter what the
From the available glimpses, corporate and community Mandriva are
struggling with some determination to reinvent themselves. However, the
tactics of that struggle are still uncertain to any outside observer
— let alone what chances they might offer for success.
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