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Linux-Mandrake: why and how?

[Mandrake logo] As most of you certainly know, the Linux-Mandrake distribution is certainly one of the fastest Linux success-stories. Born from nothing in 1998, MandrakeSoft has become an international company with 70 employees and Linux-Mandrake is in the top 5 major Linux distributions.

In this article, after a brief history reminder, I will explain why in what Linux-Mandrake is innovative and totally stuck to the Free-Software big expansion and why it constitutes a fine choice for all Linux users.

Linux, KDE and much fun...

Let's come back to the beginning of the adventure and remember the good old days... In 1997 I had been playing with Linux for several years ago and absolutely enjoyed it. What was better than Linux for learning both Unix and the Internet? Nothing of course. I played with Slackware for 2 years and then discovered Red Hat 4.1. I was absolutely impressed by its semi-graphical installation procedure and also by the RPM package format: it was a major step in keeping a GNU/Linux operating system clean. However I was really annoyed with the default graphical interface which was fvwm95 if I remember well. As a big NextStep fan I used to install AfterStep in place of it. At this time I also discovered a new graphical interface called KDE in it's alpha stage of development. I kept on playing with Red Hat and KDE and in the same time I became more and more interested in learning how to rebuild a customized Linux distribution, with new packages and improvements. After a year of learning, and seeing that Red Hat definitely wouldn't want to put KDE in their distribution I decided to release a new Linux distribution on the top of Red Hat Linux with KDE as default and several improvements that would make it easier to use. After all, it was GPLed so everyone could improve it and redistribute it!

That was the time of Linux-Mandrake 5.1, in July, 1998. This Linux distribution was only distributed through a few FTP servers on the Internet: not so easy to get some positive answer to a question such as "hey! do you have 500 Mb of free space for me on your FTP server?". However I did it for fun and I did not forget to send a few announces on the three or four main Linux news sites. And then I went straight away on sunny holidays for 2 weeks. What a surprise when I came back and checked my email! Ouch! More than two hundreds messages about Linux-Mandrake ! Many people already loved it definitely, some other provided the first improvements and two companies in the USA and Australia announced me that they had started a CD production of Mandrake. My God! Here I just understood that Linux was more than just a techies hype and also that the Internet decentralized development coupled to the Open-source philosophy was incredibly powerful...

And now a Linux startup...

Of course in a few months the first Mandrake successes had lead me and other people who I had met on Internet to build a small company called MandrakeSoft which goal was to sell some CDs with Linux-Mandrake. The following has been incredible at all levels: in several weeks we had written some manuals, designed a box for a new product called PowerPack, and hired a new server for our Internet website... Several developers also joined us and we started to imagine what could make a Linux system still better. In one year this has lead us to introduce many new ideas such as compilation optimizations for gaining much speed with Pentium processors, to design an update tool called "MandrakeUpdate" which has immediately been successful and copied by other Linux distributions, some new tools such as RPMDrake/urpmi, a general RPM installer that solves the dependencies automatically when installing a new package. We have also introduced Linux4Win, a concept - since copied by two new Linux distributions - that lets you install and use Linux under Windows. In the same time we have been actively developing commercial relationships with many vendors all around the world and signed some agreements with big companies such as MacMillan Software and Kasper which ensured a large scale deployment of Linux-Mandrake worldwide. I must say that Internet has been of a great help in this fast development since it allows, through email use, a quick and efficient contacting of companies and project following.

Two Awards at LinuxWorld Expo!

This has been the good surprise of the summer 1999: we won the "Best Linux Product" and "Best Linux Distribution/Server" at San Jose, CA in last august. And we were runner-up from the the best Linux Distribution/Client! It was a great recognition for us and this has totally boosted our development: if we can win such a prize after one year of existence only, we can do still better and faster. So we have started to employ more and more people at MandrakeSoft: at the end of 1999 we had already thirty Linux specialists who worked on Mandrake. In the same time we have still renforced our split with Red Hat which had been engaged since version 6.0: we won't wait for their releases anymore. We prefer to develop our own ideas and just stay compatible with RPM applications.

Many projects at MandrakeSoft...

As our goal was to offer a very innovative Linux distribution that would introduce new features and concepts, we have started several projects from which are already functional and included in our last version. For example we have a totally new graphical installation procedure that is recognized to be one of the most complete and the easier to use Linux installers. We also have reactivated and introduced Supermount that is a great feature which lets you use your floppy disks, Cd-roms and ZIPs just as easily as under Windows. At the present time when I'm writing this article You won't find this feature in any other Linux distribution than Mandrake 7.0! In the same spirit, we have introduced a new concept in Linux distributions that is called "security levels". It sets/checks all files permissions and installed applications on your Linux system depending on its use: if it's a secured server don't expect to have supermount working or a telnet-server running! If you use your Linux box as a client and that you have choosen a low security level, you can do almost everything very easily. We have also simplified the configuration panels: our new tool called DrakConf provides all configuration softwares that are available on your system, and this on your desktop as well as under console: Mandrake must suits all people, from the command-line hacker to the MacOS fanatic! [Cooker]

Wide open with Cooker !

Sometimes people are very suprised when I describe Mandrake as a kind of Debian/RPM with a commercial interest. However it's true and will be more and more in the future. The reason is simple: we consider that 99% of any Linux distribution comes from decentralized Linux-like development. So why would we try to close this scheme? No we won't: for more than 6 months we have open a project called "Cooker" which is a Linux distribution updated with each new package and MandrakeSoft developments. Cooker is publicly available and many developers recommend and provide new ideas and packages. Actually, Linux-Mandrake is a freeze of Cooker at a given time, followed by a strong debugging period. So Linux-Mandrake is totally pushed by the users needs since the community influnces its development. Moreover, there is a strong osmosis between Cooker participants and MandrakeSoft employees and we already employed several brilliant developers who started to participate in Linux-Mandrake freely.

In fact most MandrakeSoft employees have been involved in Free Software in general and Linux in particular for many years, so we strongly believe in it. That's why we don't lose an occasion to promote Free Software and open/public formats. In this spirit, we release ALL our developments under the General Public License and we support many open projects such as KDE, KOffice or Gnome. The free-software community gives us much, we want return as much as possible!

Policy about Free Software and Linux standardization.

There are two major stakes for the future of Linux-based systems: firstly the ability to promote Free Software/Open Source models and secondly the faculty of drawing a real Linux standard system with other players.

For the first point we play an active role for example by releasing only Free Software (all tools written by MandrakeSoft are subject to the terms of the General Public License). We also do our best to put mostly Free Software in our Linux distribution.

For the second point, we strongly believe in the role of a strong cooperation between all major Linux playors through organizations such as Linux Standard Base. It would be unacceptable for a Linux distribution to say: "we consider ourselves as the standard Linux distribution, other follow us!". That's the reason why we hope that things will speed up in this area.

Linux-Mandrake to become a major playor...

Ok we are already in the top 5 Linux distributions, but we don't consider it to be enough: we strongly believe in Free-Software and new economic models and Internet companies. That's the reason why we have engaged in a [Gael mugshot] new quick development process: we want to be on the single user's desktop, but also in the enterprise because we think that enterprises need some powerful, graphical, and easy to use Linux systems.

Linux-Mandrake: everywhere for everybody!

Gal Duval - http://www.linux-mandrake.com

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