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Editor's Note: Shaking the Magic 8-Ball

Jun 17, 2005, 23:30 (9 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Brian has been traveling all day Friday on company business, but before leaving Thursday, he filed this column. Thanks to Contributing Editor Rob Reilly for filling in!

I found it interesting that when Apple announced their new relationship with Intel, there was much buzz afoot around the industry. What would this mean for Apple? For Intel? For Microsoft? For Linux? Buzz, buzz, buzz!

Then, this week, OpenSolaris was announced. And, save for a few stories out on the wire, and some light flames here on Linux Today, it sounded more like crickets in the night. Chirp, chirp, chirp...

Perhaps Sun should take note of this.

To be fair, no one got too excited when Fedora Core 4 was announced, either. Part of this is very likely because we all new FC4 and OpenSolaris was coming. There was no big surprise, both products were pre-announced to death.

Surprises, it seems, get people thinking. Perhaps Sun could surprise people by actually following through with Janus, the feature that will allow Linux applications to run on OpenSolaris. I don't think this will happen, though. Sun has begun the inevitable march away from Linux.

Like I said, no surprise there.

What was a surprise, at least to me, was Mandriva's acquisition of Lycoris. Lycoris, founded by Joseph Cheek in the year 2000, is a spin-off of Caldera OpenLinux. If you haven't seen it, it's one of those "desktop distros" like Linspire and Xandros that tries like heck to emulate/run as many Windows applications as possible. I have messed around with it in the past, and I found it to be a solid package.

When the story first popped up in my inbox on Wednesday, a colleague of mine asked "why?" Why acquire a Linux distro when it's all GPL anyway? If a distro does something you like, grab the code and implement it yourself, right? True enough, if a distro was all about code. But distros are about people, and people are exactly what got purchased this week. Mandriva just hired the services of Cheek and the rest of his paid and volunteer workers.

In a general sense, I like this notion, because it blows away the whole "how do you make money in F/OSS?" argument. The money is not in the code, it's in the talent and the services. A fact that most Linux users try to drill into the CxOs' heads every day.

If you create good code, sure I can take it and try to use it. But what if it breaks? What if I want to do something else? That's when the commercial model for F/OSS begins. I could take the time to learn the code and fix it myself... or I could just pay the original developer to fix it for me. Time, after all, is money.

But, I digress.

My point today is not to address the positive virtues of a commercial open source system. It was to ask a single question:

Hey, Mandriva! What's going on?!?

This year, Mandrakesoft started out with a brand-new US reseller program, which seemed to be a move in the right direction. Actually, I can't say for certain it was the right direction, but, by virtue of being a direction, it had its merits.

Then, suddenly, they buy Conectiva, and Mandriva was born. The reseller program is dropped. Engineering of the new Mandriva Linux is supposed to be joined, but even today there are signs that the engineering teams are not in full collaborative mode yet. The direction of Mandriva's future? Reply hazy, try again.

This week, Lycoris, with its decidely desktop bent. And I ask you guys over there in France, what's up?

With commercial distributions of Linux gaining market share every day, I question whether now is the time to keep making all these course changes in the business and technology. There used to be a time when I could sum up Mandrakelinux as "an excellent distro for beginners and small businesses." Now, honestly, I haven't a clue how to describe the company's products now.

I ask these things out of sense of concern. I liked Mandrakelinux, and I think I'll like Mandriva. But the messages the company is sending out to the community and, worse, to the general customer population is mixed. I hope that Mandriva's managers make some decisions and choose a path to try to make their mark in the software arena. With the ascension of Linux, now is the time to make that mark.

It is decidedly so.

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