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[Gael Duval]

LWN interviews Gael Duval

Gael Duval is a founder of MandrakeSoft, the producers of the fast-rising Linux-Mandrake distribution. Gael was kind enough to take some time to answer LWN's questions about where Linux-Mandrake is going.

LWN: What can you tell us about the investment from AXA? What will be done with the money?

GD: Axa is a big investor - they have deep pockets (650 billions USD of asset management), they have many different funds and companies in the group and are very very reactive. It's been the fastest investor to be interested and agree to invest in a Linux company. They made their decision before Redhat's successful IPO and are now very happy of their decision.

The money will be used to launch and support more and more innovative open source projects and to establish MandrakeSoft offices in several countries. Expect a scoop very soon.

LWN: Does this investment imply that MandrakeSoft intends to go public at some point in the future? If so, would you do so in the U.S. or in Europe?

GD: As soon as possible and probably in Nasdaq.

LWN: How big is MandrakeSoft at this point?

GD: There are currently about 20 employees in several countries and it grows fast.

LWN: When Linux-Mandrake was launched, it was essentially positioned as "Red Hat with KDE." Now Red Hat has KDE. What is the current "vision" for Linux-Mandrake? How will you distinguish it from other distributions?

GD: Firstly, while Red Hat is more Gnome-centric, we are more KDE-centric. However, we also ship Gnome and other interfaces like WindowMaker, AfterStep, IceWM.... We want to provide a real choice to users, and it's very easy to switch from one to the others in Mandrake.

Anyways, our distinction comes from the first ideas that I have put in Mandrake at the beginning: for example easy CD-ROM, Floppy mounting
"Redhat is the IBM of the Linux market, we expect to be the new Compaq."
for users that are not "root" etc. It has been called the "Mandrake touch" by someone in the press (sorry I don't remember who!). It's a set of improvements to make the user's life easier. In the same spirit, we have a tool called "MandrakeUpdate" which permits an easy upgrade of packages: just click on the "MandrakeUpdate" on your desktop and you know what are the new packages to update. Select those that you need, it prompts you for the root password, and then download and install the new packages from the net.

And with all those new developers at MandrakeSoft, we now have many ideas to put Linux on every PC :) Big projects are currently being developed, from which Lothar, Linux for Windows, Panoramix and DiskDrake.

LWN: Will Linux-Mandrake continue as a value-added distribution based on Red Hat, or do you plan to split away at some point?

GD: The split has already occurred from the 6.0 version, although nobody seems to have noticed it ;) We were developing Mandrake 6.0 a long time before Red Hat released their version and we have just synchronized a few things at RH 6.0 release time. So we do not have exactly the same packages, nor the same versions: not the same Gnome, not the same KDE, not the same Glibc, not the same Bash, not the same Linux Kernel etc.

Nevertheless, one thing is sure: currently we do not want to try setting our own standards: Red Hat is the leader, we do not want to reinvent the wheel: it's open source software! So we use the best of Red Hat and we build in the same direction as them, but faster and nicer (IMO of course ;)) Mandrake looks like Red Hat and is compatible with it: it means that every RPM made for Red Hat can run on Mandrake. This is a very important point because many proprietary applications will soon appear for Linux and they will first be designed for the leader which is called Red Hat. Other Linux distributions won't benefit from it because they use other packages systems or don't have the same file hierarchy. However, we are often called a "Red Hat better than Red Hat" in the press!

LWN: Some day some clever person will create a new distribution which is a value-added version of Linux-Mandrake. How would that affect Linux-Mandrake's sales? What would MandrakeSoft's response, if any, be?

GD: "Some day" has already occured several times. The first time was "Guru Linux" (one year ago), the last one is "Phat Linux". But there have been many others, like MaTel in Thailand, for example. We have no problem at all with that. Sometimes, we just try to convince people to join us instead of trying to be a small concurrent: it benefits to the both parties.

Anyways, any other Mandrake/Redhat based player will extend the competition, the features and at least the Mandrake/Redhat based distribution user base. It's very similar to the success of the IBM PC-Compatible market versus Apple market. Redhat and Mandrake are in the PC side. Suse and Caldera are in the Apple side: there is no Caldera or Suse based distribution because they provide proprietary components while Red Hat and Mandrake publish all their work with the General Public License. Redhat is the IBM of the Linux market, we expect to be the new Compaq.

LWN: Do you have a release date for 6.1? What can Linux-Mandrake users look forward to with that release?

GD: 6.1 is expected to be released soon - in 6.1 there will be the last versions of all the packages that we ship, and everything will be completely stabilized. Furthermore, there will certainly one or two good surprises in 6.1 !

LWN: How strong of a response have you gotten to Cooker? Do you expect to get a significant amount of developer interest via that release?

GD: About 200 developers joined Cooker :) They all feed Mandrake with ideas, fixes, new packages etc. It's a very nice place for free-software. With Cooker (http://www.linux-mandrake.com/cooker/), Mandrake is turning into a real open source distribution, just like Debian is. Furthermore, we see that many developers and users enjoy getting the freshest packages from Cooker!

LWN: What other interesting news can we expect to see come out of MandrakeSoft in the near future?

GD: From a technical point of view, we plan to release final versions of several big projects like Lothar, DiskDrake and Panoramix. We will also soon announce a new nice tool called "hwizard" that will make user's life under Linux still more fun and easier. But I can't tell more :)

From a commercial point of view, we will soon extend our distribution, especially in the USA. Several agreements are being signed but we still miss a mainstream distributor in the USA that would ship our PowerPacks and other new products in each American store.

From a financial point of view, there are already new discussions with new investors.

We will also employ more people and soon announce new implantations, especially in Asia.

In my first idea, Mandrake was made to promote Linux as a competitor to MS-Windows. I think it could occur sooner than expected :)

LWN: And where did the name "Mandrake" come from in the first place?

GD: From my child's head. Mandrake is magic!

-- J. Corbet.

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