Mandriva begins journey to a new foundation

Sets June 19 Paris meeting to launch discussion

Even as its commercial vendor fights to stay alive, the Mandriva community is actively coalescing around the Linux distribution by creating a new foundation to protect it from fading away.

That was the word from Charles-H. Schulz, the OpenOffice developer who joined the Mandriva development team at the end of May with the express purpose to help save Mandriva from a death spiral.

Yesterday Schulz used the Mandriva blog to outline a new plan to rescue Mandriva: creating a Mandriva foundation that would own the copyright and code for Mandriva and thus protect it from the failure of any one commercial entity.

The idea of a Mandriva foundation is not new; Schulz himself broached the idea on June 1. Mandriva SA, the Paris-based commercial sponsor for Mandriva, was strongly advocating the nee "for the Mandriva Linux distribution to be governed as and built on a strong, transparent and meritocratic foundation," Schulz wrote at the time.

Yesterday's blog post picks up where that initial jump point left off. After discussions on the Mandriva mailing list, Schulz stated that there would be a face-to-face meeting in Paris on June 19.

"This working group will be in charge of evaluating the available options and strategies for the future of the Linux distribution, its resources and its governance," Schulz wrote.

This won't be the big dramatic finish where all of Mandriva's problems will be wiped away with magical foundation dust. Schulz emphasized that this was just the beginning of the conversation.

"Of course, we should not expect that after a full day of meeting the workgroup will come out with definitive solutions, strategies, and a list of leaders. This will be the first meeting of this kind, and it will be an opportunity for brainstorming and defining a few broad but fundamental principles," he stated.

The shift to a community-based governance for Mandriva was announced May 17, when CEO Jean-Manuel Croset ceded control of the Mandriva Linux distribution back to the community at large.

"[A]fter reviewing all your messages, suggestions, ideas and comments, Mandriva SA took the decision to transfer the responsibility of the Mandriva Linux distribution to an independent entity. This means that the future of the distribution will not be arbitrary decided by the Mandriva company anymore, but we intend to let the distribution evolve in and under the caring responsibility of the community," Croset wrote at the time.

Mandriva SA has been struggling financially for years, even after emerging from bankruptcy in 2006. Formerly MandrakeSoft, the company merged with Brazilian Linux vendor and former UnitedLinux partner Connectiva in 2005.

But even as the Mandriva releases remained popular among users, the company never seemed to have much of a business direction, and its developer community continually declined in strength. The company's decision to let founder Gaël Duval go also alienated the company from its development community.

In 2011, there were rumors that French open source firm LINAGORA would be acquiring Mandriva, but those rumors turned out to be just that. By January of 2012, there were a a string of announcements from Mandriva executives, the first indicating the vendor was in dire straits, followed by others saying that the company wasn't quite dead yet.

In May, the Mandriva community decided to take matters in their own hands, not wanting to wait to start on (presumably) Mandriva Linux 2012. The new community leadership included Per Øyvind Karlsen, who will be acting as (de facto) project leader for the course of Mandriva Linux 2012 development, with Bernhard Rosenkränzer and Matthew Dawkins as release managers.

The creation of a foundation will be a real benefit for Mandriva, but there are still bumps ahead. For instance, the Mageia distribution, itself a community-based fork of Mandriva, declined an invitation by Mandriva SA to rejoin the Mandriva mainline development process prior to the May 17 announcement from Croset. Their reasoning? That there had already been a significant amount of work put into Mageia's code and governance model, and the Mageia.org board did not want to abandon the results of their efforts.

In fact, Mageia actually extended an invitation to Mandriva to join the Mageia community, but that offer was declined by Mandriva as well.

But the two communities will not remain completely separate; Mandriva SA announced on May 20 that its server product will in part be based on Mageia code.

It will be interesting to see if these two entities will remain in orbit around each other indefinitely, or if they will ultimately re-combine their efforts if Mageia's community learns to trust Mandriva SA again.

A foundation could go a long ways to establishing that trust.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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