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

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.