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Editor's Note: This is the United States Calling, Are We Reaching?

Aug 26, 2005, 23:30 (22 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

One major Linux vendor who was missing at LinuxWorld Expo was Mandriva. This is not a huge surprise: since I started attending LWEs in 2000, I can't recall ever seeing Linux-Mandrake, MandrakeLinux, or Mandriva on the show floor.

But I can't help thinking lately that Mandriva is even more absent than that. As Red Hat, SUSE, and now the various commercial Debian distros plow ahead on their PR machines announcing everything under the sun, Mandriva is once again playing the silent member of the community, quietly plugging away on the development of Mandriva 2006.

I have often wondered about the state of Mandriva here in the column, which has typically garnered some critiques that I am picking on them. If I am, it is in the spirit of trying to help, because I am genuinely fond of Mandriva, both as a software product and as a company.

Every once in a while, there will be an announcement somewhere about a Mandriva deployment, usually in Europe, most likely in France. While I don't tend to tease the French like most people do, they do tend to be consistent about focusing on France first, so this business model seems well suited for the Paris-based company.

Thinking about it further, I have begun to wonder if this nation-centric approach to distributing Linux distros might not be the best approach for Linux as a whole. Besides Mandriva, Ubuntu's Mark Shuttleworth is taking a South Africa first, Africa a close second approach to building Ubuntu's customer base. It is because of the Internet and Ubuntu's quality that many international users are adopting the Ubuntu OS, too.

And so it goes. Recently there have been a few pundits advocating the consolidation of Linux distros, but I think that's a very US-biased way of looking at things. We have a mindset where if you succeed, you get bigger. If you get bigger, you either wipe out the competition or swallow them up in acquisitions and mergers. I think that these calls for consolidation is just that mindset coming out. These pundits want Linux to be successful, but they don't understand that it doesn't have to be done on US terms. (Or traditional models of business. See last week's column for a depoliticized argument.)

Linux, despite its Borg-like adoption by Red Hat and Novell, is an international platform. It always has been. To succeed, it doesn't have to follow any one country's idea of success. If China wants to push a state-owned version of Linux to its citizens, then that works for them. If South Africa wants to enable schools and businesses to reduce the information gap by distributing free software, then that counts as a success. Venezuela will adopt Linux across their entire government, and that will work, too. Each country has or may have their own national Linux distro. Or maybe they'll just use someone else's.

I think this nation-centric form of Linux adoption is something that could really work. Think about it. The people on the ground in India or Jamaica know their respective territories. They know the price of business software in their countries and more importantly, they know how business is done. These are their neighbors, their peers.

Of course, the big proprietary companies have their local experts too, hired from the local workforce. But these experts, as savvy as they are, are still bound by one big goal: at the end of the day, it isn't just any solution they have to provide their clients, it has to be their company's solution. A local Microsoft expert will never sell someone on OpenOffice. But a local Linux expert would be more willing to integrate Linux with existing Microsoft solutions—if that is the most feasible solution at hand.

This is a huge advantage: while a Linux/free software expert will obviously try their hardest to use only free and open source software, they are not constrained from trying any solution that works. Proprietary vendors have their hands tied by their "its our way or the highway" mentality. Everyone else can use whatever they want. Even if they never want to use proprietary software again, they can build their own open solution, using code from pre-existing products close to their needs.

If you ask me what the pattern of Linux adoption will be in the future, you will see more and more non-US adoptions as individual nations and their user bases see open source as cost-effective solution to their IT needs. Being Microsoft's home turf, the US will undoubtedly lag behind, until one day they will look out over the oceans and see everyone else with a huge technical and business advantage using Linux. At which point, the clue light will come on and we will play catch up to the global Linux adoption rate.

So, should one Linux company triumph over all? Nope. The more the merrier, because an international grass-roots adoption will bring the most success to Linux in the long run.