An OS in the Public Interest – a Mandriva Linux Foundation?

TerreLast week, I received, in CC:, an email from a Mandriva Linux developer. This email was entitled “A foundation for Mandriva Linux *NOW* or Mandriva Linux to *DIE*?”

That suggested to me that maybe Mandriva was not going very well. This, of course, hurted me. At the same time it leads to the interesting question of a Foundation for a project like Mandriva Linux.

This is interesting because I remember we first discussed the question of a Foundation for Mandrake Linux back in 2000 or 2001. And we decided that it was a good idea. But we were too busy to really take care of it at the time. And in 2012 there is still no such organisation.

Mandriva Linux, earlier Mandrake Linux, is an interesting case of a Linux distribution who had a HUGE success worlwide, as the first popular Desktop Linux distribution. Remember in the early 2000 days, you could find a Mandrake Linux package in every bookstore in the USA, and it was widely available in Europe too. Then, it became very popular in other countries, and I still have a collection of several Mandrake Linux localized for Japan, Russia and other countries.

It has been distributed in thousand magazines and is still… one of the most downloaded Linux distributions. Still many young people tell me they have started Linux with Mandrake Linux because it was easier to use. I hadn’t expected it’s been so huge actually.

At the same time, the business for MandrakeSoft/Mandriva has always been a headache. The reasons are multiple, one of them is certainly the lack of an adequate business model, and this could be discussed for hours.

As a result, I understand that the existence of Mandriva Linux is now subject to speculation; not because of the product or the project, but because every month developers have to be paid and if the business is not good enough, soon comes a day when there is no more money to pay developers.

But I know about natural selection, and the fact that Mandriva is still here means a lot. This project has deep and strong roots. It has an intrinsinc vital force that lead it to the age of 14 yo, despite all the financial issues.

So, more and more I think that Mandriva could be a good candidate for an “Operating System in the Public Interest”.

Why an OS in the Public Interest?

We see less and less freedom in Operating Systems. People are locked by proprietary OSes. They can’t do what they want, they have lost a lot of Freedom. Before there was Windows, that was seen as evil. New comers are still worse.

MacOS or iOS are terrible in that matter (which is hard for me as I love the technologies of iOS and most Apple products). When you are in the Apple world, you are absolutely locked in the Apple world. Even what is displayed on your iPhone or iPad, you can’t redirect legally elsewhere than to a Mac or to an Apple TV.

Now take Google: they really want to have you in their ecosystem, they do anything to lock you and look friendly with you. But Facebook, Twitter and Google know everything about you. They want to control everything. As a result your life is, want it or not, partly controlled by those private and for-profit companies.

And Google with Android, what are they doing? they are just transforming a kernel in the public interest into software for shareholders interest, and grow your jail-ecosystem.

Projects in the Public Interest?

There is Wikipedia which is an awesome success. There is OpenStreeMap. There are others project as well that are in the Public Interest, which means in the Human Interest, and not in the shareholders interest, and independent.

On the OS side, there is Debian already, and Debian is huge. But Debian is still for servers & geeks. Ubuntu? Good on the desktop, but is holded by Canonical. It’s not in the Public Interest.

There is the Linux Foundation too. It’s very nice and I’m happy that it exists, but it’s for low-level kernel development.

So, if I was 24 again… :) I would try to build a Foundation that would focus on delivering great Operating Systems in the Public Interest, both for PCs and tablets and smartphones.

Such a Foundation would need great engineers and visionary people to release great and easy to use software products for people with all guarantees of independency, security and privacy for their users.

It would, of course, need some financial resources. But when you do a huge Foundation, you find the money. Many people are ready to donate when they know that they are contributing to something good. The public sector, governements can donate. And you can build an ecosystem where some private, commercial companies sell services around the product. So in the end they can support, even financially, the OS in the Public Interest.

Most big infrastructures (roads, electricity, telecommunications) have been started as public projects, for the people, because people need interoperability and freedom. I think Operating Systems are infrasture components too, so we need an OS in the Public Interest, at least as an alternative for people who want to be free.

Gaël Duval, Mandrake Linux Founder.

Diclaimer: I’ve not been involved in Mandriva since March 2006.

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19 Responses to An OS in the Public Interest – a Mandriva Linux Foundation?

  1. Steve says:

    I fondly remember Mandrake. For me it wasn’t the desktop aspect, it was msec, and the way a relative novice like myself could put up a fairly secure LAMP stack out of the box. When Mandrake went from Mandrake to Mandriva I was sad. Why? I don’t know, I guess change is hard. Then there was the community. Super strong, super opinionated, and really IMHO Mandriva’s most vital asset, if not also its most active critic. When Mandriva decided to ignore the community I had to move on. I miss my Mandrake. Thank you Gael for your work.

  2. Jack says:

    For years I’ve considered Mandriva to be a top notch distro for fresh users and users that just want to get on with their work. If I got some quirky old rag (laptop) into my hands Mandriva was the thing that got it back into business.

    But that never was the issue with Mandriva.

    The issue was and still is confidence and reliability of the organisation behind it. It doesn’t matter if they continue to deliver the very best product. Because there’s no confidence.

    When someone wants my advice on what distro to pick I cannot recommend a distro if I am not certain that the organisation behind it will be able to exist and deliver for several years. It’n not a question about money. It’s about trust, and as Mandriva concerned they will need years to rebuild that confidence.

    Maybe a Foundation is the road forward, but unless they rebuild that confidence it doesn’t really matter. It will still die.

    The business is not poor because the product was bad, but because the business is poorly managed. No one buys a ticket for a cross atlantic passenger liner when it is sinking alongside the quay.

  3. tracyanne says:

    Speaking as someone who started using Linux with Mandrake, I think the idea is great, but… I think that for Mandriva the ship has sailed. Too many years of bad management has seen the community, which Mandrakesoft mostly ignored, desert, and either go to other OSs, such as Linux Mint (which I have done) or form new communities around fortks of Mandriva Magia, for example.

    I think any community support for Mandriva has been bleed dry.

  4. xanthon says:

    I know of 3 derivatives: PCLinuxOS, Mageia and Rosa. I would like to see all merged and viable instead of struggling.

  5. lzap says:

    Ubuntu holded by Canonical. Fedora by Red hat. Well, yes and no. Would Mandriva be holded by the Foundation (or whatever)? Yes and no, the same. If you put strong line between projects and products, community can work well. Communities do not have problems with that, other enterprises which try to make many of them do. And even foundations are protecting their communities (e.g. Mozilla).

    So you would like to start another Debian. Great, but what are your offers? Community does not work without motivation. What is the driver that would attract people? I can only say it would be great.

    Disclaimer: I am already part of several communities and I would not join just like that.

  6. Somewhat Reticent says:

    That could bring strength and unity to the Linux community, after so much successful divide-and-conquer subversion. How would you avoid the inherent self-serving interests of people hoping to profit thereby?

  7. On lxer.com, I read the following comment:

    “Two forks now exist: Mageia and ROSA Linux. Mageia seems to have a community behind it. I don’t think that community will come back to Mandriva even if a foundation is formed. Without corporate or community support a foundation becomes meaningless.”

    And it’s a comment that I’ve seen several others making similar other places as well..

    What people should know is the fact that ROSA hasn’t actually forked Mandriva Linux, and it reallyreally don’t want to either. While ROSA Linux is a customized version of Mandriva Linux, it’s still based on the same set of packages.

    For a foundation, ROSA doesn’t just have great interest in it, it’s also able to provide the necessary funding to make it happen, which the ROSA CEO, Dmitry Komissarov publically expressed in the “A foundation for Mandriva Linux *NOW* or Mandriva Linux to *DIE*?” thread referred to.

    This should also make it more obvious for the people who don’t see what a foundation brings that the Mageia project doesn’t; a solid financial backing that makes it actually realistic and feasible to realise the goals which Gaël sets for the foundation, which neither the Mageia or Debian is able to provide!

  8. Gaël Duval says:

    Thanks for those valuable comments guys!

  9. Nom says:

    The french state should sponsor/fund AND control Mandriva, for bolstering national independance from foreign solutions, at least for the educational and nonprofit markets. Mandriva’s KDE polish and management apps could give Microsoft’s a run for its money.

  10. The french government hasn’t seemed to show much interest in Mandriva previously, so that’s obviously not something that would seem realistic, and even if it was, it would be at direct conflict with the principal ideas behind an independent, community foundation..

    Hopefully such a non-profit/charity foundation should perform better at attracting support, funding and all those thing than a company is able to, and that Mandriva unfortunately certainly not has ever been.

  11. Dot says:

    Rosa is not a derivative itself. They use the same packages, but with minor customizations (i.e. changed logos). This distro is targeted at Russian government money washing mashine: a Free Software Migration Programme.
    This programme itself has rather cool idea to create the framework and environment which fully corresponds to Russian federal standards and to base all the government-related tasks on the distro.

    There are some competitors in this Programme, and the only distro to have its own qualified developer team is ALTLinux which BTW was forked from Mandrake in 2001. The rest are just changing logos either from Mandriva or CentOS|Fedora.

  12. Marko Doda says:

    Debian is a distro of public interest. The good thing about Debian is that it has a huge community and is not balkanized like the RPM distro’s. And really, is Mandriva’s base system so much better than Debian’s?, IMO the best possible solution would be to rebase mandriva on debian testing, port the tools and gain a bunch of packages for free.

  13. Gaël Duval says:

    Marko: I understand your point of view, but in my opinion, Debian’s mission is not that clear, at least not that clear as Wikipedia. The other issue with Debian is on the desktop: they are not end-user oriented. Ubuntu is doing the job but Ubuntu’s mission is not that clear either and Canonical holds Ubuntu.

    Regarding the package management, RPM and Deb are both OK. I’m afraid that migrating Mandriva to Deb would be a pain that would be superior to the gain. (The gain, in my opinion would be that they could use a lot from Debian, at least for a start)

  14. Marko Doda says:

    Yeah, debian is a wierd beast :) , IMO, the strong points of mandriva are that it is an desktop distro, you get a really complete DE, and on top of that you have GUI tools for tweaking the underlying system, Ubuntu is more web oriented, the DE and the tools are lacking, a lot of ordinary tweaks are done in the Terminal.

  15. Michael says:

    There is no such thing as migrating a distro from rpm to deb and vice versa. You can adapt some tools, but migrating just mean “rewrite everything from scratch”. The code of most of the system is already shared, everybody use the same kernel, same glibc, same python ( for 98% of code or more, just minor patching ). The difference are not easy to migrate, or it would have naturally been done.

  16. rpm5 has actually something like >80% native debian package support in place already..
    Finishing the remaining <20% could make “deb to rpm” realistic..

  17. Gaël, considering that it would be an OS in the public interest, WDYT about requiring a “transfer” of copyrights for work contributed to it for it to be released to the public domain?

    This would make it really more truely in the public interest in the same line as other work released by the government otherwise that is usually released to the public domain..

  18. Also this is partially what’s already being done by RedHat, that is for the “transfer” part of copyrights, where people has to transfer the copyrights of the work to RedHat, but which doesn’t actually release it to the public domain, but rather preserves original license, while retaining the copyrights.
    The foundation in contrast would release it to the public domain, relieving the work of any copyrights, restrictions and limitiations at all!

  19. Gaël Duval says:

    “Gaël, considering that it would be an OS in the public interest, WDYT about requiring a “transfer” of copyrights for work contributed to it for it to be released to the public domain?”

    That’s an interesting question. In term of communication for a Foundation, I think it’s a good idea.

    On the other hand, all the software is covered by Open Source rules, which is fundamentally in the public interest, and what matter the most in my opinion.

    And it’s very difficult in certain countries to transfert the copyright, for instance in France the “droit d’auteur” is a “forever right”, that cannot be transferred (inalienable right). Even in corporates it can be a legal issue.

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