News and EditorialsMandrakesoft has announced several wide-ranging changes affecting everything from the company's development model to incorporation of new technologies, and even its name. We have attempted to read between the lines of Mandrakesoft's press releases, interviews, FAQs, and IRC discussions, and this is what we think.
First, the good news: Mandrakesoft is doing well. The company has recently been awarded two multi-million euro contracts by the French government and it is likely that private enterprises in France have also started to contribute towards the company's positive cash flow. As a result, there has been a shift of focus by Mandrakesoft from developing a predominantly home user's product into more profitable enterprise-grade solutions and support. This is hardly surprising as -- and let's be honest about it -- that's where the real money is. If this model works so well for Red Hat on the other side of the Atlantic, there is no reason why it shouldn't work for Mandrakesoft, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale within its own sphere of influence.
This success is probably the main reason behind the latest round of changes in the development and release process of Mandrakelinux. Since the company was established in 1998, Mandrakelinux releases came out in regular 6-month intervals, but the high release frequency of two architectures has been putting strain on the developers, as witnessed by the delays in each betas and release candidates of all recent Mandrakelinux releases. From that point of view, the newly introduced annual release plan will make sense. Unfortunately, it will probably alienate some users many of whom have perceived Mandrakelinux as a solid, up-to-date distribution with frequent releases incorporating all the latest Linux technologies. Especially the current Mandrakeclub members will have a reason to complain since the €120/year membership fee originally entitled them to two Mandrakelinux releases per year. As a compromise, Mandrakesoft is now offering to fill the gap with an interim product - just for the club members. Even so, the skeptics will argue that this is likely to be a poorly-tested snapshot of the development tree, which has historically suffered from stability issues.
How the acquisition of Conectiva fits into Mandrakesoft's future plans is less clear. Although Conectiva employs many talented developers and has a history of several successfully implemented ideas (the port of Debian's apt to RPM-based distributions springs to mind), there seems to be little that the Brazilian company can offer Mandrakesoft. Also, as anybody who has worked for a multi-national software company can confirm, managing software development in a country halfway across the globe will almost certainly result in a substantial overhead in terms of traveling, communication, and bandwidth cost. Add to it the language barrier, and the benefits of acquiring the services of a few dozens of talented developers can be easily overshadowed by the increased expenditure. As such, it seems that Mandrakesoft's acquisition of Conectiva is largely a public relations stunt devised to convey a message saying that "Mandrakesoft is back" - healthier and more profitable than ever.
That said, some of Conectiva's ideas might end up being incorporated into Mandrakelinux in one form or another. The Mandrakesoft developers have hinted that they are examining some of Conectiva's kernel hacks and evaluating the possibility of incorporating elements of its package management into Mandrakelinux. But will Conectiva's apt replace Mandrakelinux's urpmi? There are reasons to believe that it might. Although both apt and urpmi are released under the GPL, urpmi is not used by any distribution outside Mandrakelinux, while apt is widely deployed by many RPM-based projects and it even became a very popular third-party package management tool for Fedora Core and SUSE LINUX. In fact, several distributions that were originally based on Mandrakelinux were quick to drop urpmi in favor of apt (e.g. PCLinuxOS or ALT Linux). There is little point for the unified company to continue developing two package management tools, so if one of them has to go, it will likely be urpmi.
Besides the major modifications in its development model, speculations are rife that the company will also change its name. Shortly after acquiring Conectiva, Mandrakesoft registered several top-level domain names for Mandriva, as well as a large number of regional domain names in many parts of the world. Of course, this is less surprising given the long-standing trademark dispute between the company and a US-based syndicate holding the rights to the comic-strip character "Mandrake the Magician". If the name is indeed retired, it will mean the end of one of the best-known and best-loved brands in the history of Linux distributions.
How to keep its existing user base in the atmosphere of frequent release and development model changes is an important challenge for Mandrakesoft right now. Lack of predictability is starting to become a major weakness of the distribution, especially when compared to some of its competitors that have clearly defined release processes and support periods. But if Mandrakesoft can get more business from large enterprises, losing a few home users to other distributions will be a small price to pay. In this respect, Mandrakesoft is wisely following in the footsteps of Red Hat and Novell/SUSE, especially if they can stick to the current plan and resist introducing any major new changes for some time to come.
New ReleasesTrustix Secure Linux 3.0 alpha has been released. It has a new installer, X.org X11-libraries, GnuTLS, Hotplug, Memtest86+, plus lots of upgrades.
Distribution NewsWith these changes done, we are now on the home stretch for the sarge release. We are now only waiting on the arm buildds to recover and catch up to a reasonable extent, and on one last glibc upload -- and then sarge is FREEZING." QA Hacking @ HEL. "This is a cunning plot to increase interest in Quality Assurance among Debian contributors. There will be a QA Hacking event preceding Debconf5 in Helsinki."
Another update of Debian 3.0 (woody) is underway. "The plan is to release this revision roughly two months after the last update. However, it may be required that this happens before the release of sarge or it won't happen at all. It may be the last update if no updates to 3.0 are possible after sarge has been released."
Here's the April 1st edition of Bits from the DAMs (& Co). "While having a very s3kr1t Cabal-Meeting a bit ago, we decided that Debian doesn't work anymore the way it is running right now. We gave you a chance to actually proove we are wrong with this conclusion, but the huge flamewars following our testmail showed that we are right. So we decided to have a clean restart with a small team and as such are deleting every account somewhere around this evening (UTC)."
The third and final call for votes went out, for the DPL election. "At the time of writing, half an hour into the third (and final) week of the vote, we are still at a low ebb for voter participation, though not by a huge margin. I do note, though, that more people have gone back and re-cast their ballot this year than previously, lending some credence to the theory that this year people are just taking longer to muddle through deciding on their ballot."has been announced. "Built entirely from scratch on Slackware 10.1, this marks our finest release to date."
New Distributions64 Studio is a new distribution aimed at audio and video applications. "64 Studio is a collection of software designed specifically for content creation on x86_64 hardware (that's AMD's 64-bit CPUs and Intel's EMT64 chips), including audio, video and design applications. It's based on the pure 64 port of Debian GNU/Linux, but with a specialised package selection and lots of other customisations. It will be marketed to hardware OEMs in the creative workstation and laptop markets as an alternative to the 64-bit version of Windows XP, or OS X on Apple hardware."
Distribution NewslettersUbuntu Traffic covering the first week of February, 2005 is out. Topics include Language Packs and Locales, Alternate Live CD Kernels, Ubuntu-Devel and Split Mailing Lists, Autopackage, Framebuffer Activation, New Keyboard Selection Program, Ubuntu Reviews and Press, Reply-to-List on Ubuntu Users, and more. DistroWatch Weekly for April 4, 2005 is out. "This week we'll talk about Ubuntu Linux - the new leader in our Page Hit Ranking statistics, link to a couple of interesting articles about SUSE LINUX and Gentoo Linux, and bring you news about the first-ever live CD based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4. Also in this issue - is the Autopackage installer good for Linux? While its concepts might be sound, a Debian developer argues that its implementation has fatal flaws."
Package updatesselinux-policy-targeted-1.17.30-2.93 (various fixes), util-linux-2.12a-21 (changed nfsmount to only use reserve ports when necessary), util-linux-2.12a-23 (various fixes, added documentation), words-3.0-2.2 (sort with --ignore-case), e2fsprogs-1.36-1.FC3.1 (integrate FC4 changes, bug fixes), system-config-printer-0.6.116.1.4-1 (bug fixes), subversion-1.1.4-1.1 (update to 1.1.4). over 70 non-critical bug fixes". Also the php-5.0.4 packages in testing fix various bugs and security issues.
Newsletters and articles of interesttakes a look at Gentoo 2005.0. "The 2005.0 release also marks the beginning of a new six month release cycle for the Gentoo snapshots, up from the previous marker of three months. "We found that releasing every three months gave us little gain for quite a large amount of work," Gianelloni said. "Also, with the longer release cycle, it allows us to do more inventive things that would otherwise be impossible to test in the limited amount of time. We typically release on a set cycle since we aren't bound by package releases in the tree."" answers questions posed by Slashdot readers. "The Ubuntu team takes [Debian] Sid, every six months, and makes a secure, tested, and supported release of it. Hopefully many of the patches (published continuously at http://people.ubuntu.com/~scott/patches/ but don't let Scott tell you he personally made all of those patches :-) we make in the process are adopted by the Debian maintainers, so Sid gets better as a result of Ubuntu, it is designed to be a two-way street."
Distribution reviewsreviews SUSE Linux 9.3. "SUSE has been one of the major players on the desktop for as long as I can remember, and for good reason. They have built a solid, sleek desktop ready for anyone who wanted to give Linux a shot but either had no luck with other distributions, or simply was curious but didn't have the time to fight their way through a long install or tedious configurations. SUSE was it. Does the distro that has kept so many people happy for so long still have what it takes to stay on top? We're about to find out..." reviews the Linspire Five-0 distribution. "Linspire includes very little software with the base distribution, at least in comparison to other popular desktop distros. It doesn't come with a graphics editing program, a dedicated FTP client, or a DVD player. If you want to be able to have that kind of functionality without using the command line to work around it, you'll have to pay U.S. $50 per year for a CNR membership. In fact, it often seems that Linspire as a distribution is not so much meant to be an operating system, but is intended as a vehicle for the CNR software subscription." edition of Linux Journal's Linux Desktop Reviews features Sun's Java Desktop System. "During the launch of Sun's Java Desktop System (JDS), the company touted its product as a real alternative to Microsoft Windows. During an interview, Peder Ulander, the then director of marketing for the Desktop Solutions team at Sun, said, "The Java Desktop System is a comprehensive and secure enterprise desktop environment that runs on Solaris and Linux. It provides the enterprise with the first viable alternative to Windows in 15 years, by offering a complete feature set at a fraction of the cost of a Windows upgrade."" looks at Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4.0 Advanced Server. "Performance of RHEL 4.0 was very good to excellent overall, and a marked improvement over RHEL 3.0. We conducted tests on several platforms to gauge improvements between RHEL versions, as well as a comparison between 32- and 64-bit versions." look at Yoper. "A commendable feature of Yoper is its speed and stability. In the world of resource hogging distros, Yoper works at an amazing speed, even on my low-end 851MHz Celeron with 256MB of RAM, thanks to features like prelinking, compiling specifically for i686, and several performance-enhancing patches. The fine performance doesn't come at the expense of system stability. Yoper hasn't crashed even once in the four months I've been using it, no matter how heavily I'm multitasking."
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