June 15, 2005

Mandriva embraces Lycoris

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

Mandriva -- formerly Mandrake -- is one of the world's most popular user-level desktop GNU/Linux choices. Now, only a few months after Mandrake extended itself to absorb Conectiva (hence the new "Mandriva") name, it has embraced the small but feature-rich Lycoris distribution. Lycoris founder and CEO Joe Cheek may end up as a Mandriva employee, although this is not certain yet, but Mandriva certainly hopes a substantial percentage of Lycoris's approximately 20,000 paying customers join MandrivaClub. This acquisition may be good for both parties in the long run. But a lot of its success may depend on whether Joe Cheek ends up working for Mandriva or walking away at the end of his current consulting contract, which runs only through this fall.The press release announcing Mandriva's latest corporate purchase said:
"We are extremely happy that Joseph Cheek decided to join the Mandriva family. They bring a unique expertise in terms of desktop tools and some excellent products. Our goal is now to provide a path moving forward to the thousands of Desktop/LX users", said François Bancilhon, CEO of Mandriva.

Joseph Cheek added: "Lycoris is especially excited to be part of the new Mandriva team. Merging the unique qualities of our Desktop/LX product with Mandriva's excellent technology will enable both Desktop/LX and Mandriva users to enjoy a superior computing experience."

But in a NewsForge phone interview, Cheek said that at this point all he has is a short-term consulting contract with Mandriva that will last through fall, when they hope to get the next version of Lycoris out, plus he's agreed to work on documentation and other desktop developments, but there is currently no formal agreement beyond that even though both he and Mandriva spokesperson and co-founder Gaël Duval say they hope their relationship will become permanent.

Lycoris assets: Joe Cheek plus volunteers

When you come right down to it, Lycoris is nothing but Joe Cheek and what he describes as "a core group of volunteers." The company has never had venture capital funding. It was started by Cheek with personal funds after he left Microsoft and spent a short time with LinuxCare, which faded away in 2001 and was sort-of reincarnated as Levanta.

Cheek managed quite a few "firsts" in the Linux world, including one of the earliest attempts by a distribution packager to sell pre-loaded Linux hardware through its own channel, development of a Linux version for handheld PCs originally intended to run Windows, and the first GNU/Linux tablet PC.

The first iteration of Lycoris was based on Caldera Linux, complete with its unique "play a game while you wait" installer. It rapidly grew from there, but as a small-time (often one-man) show it often seemed that Lycoris bit off more than it could chew, so not all of its innovations were as well-realized as they could have been.

And now that show is over.

Cheek says, "If Lycoris had become a multi-million dollar entity, I'd be happier," and, "I'm a little bit personally disappointed."

At the same time, he admits that Mandriva paid him "a nice amount" for his company, and he's glad he managed to wrangle "VIP contributors" perks from Mandriva for all core Lycoris volunteers.

Mandriva hopes "1+1=3"

In an IM conversation, Mandriva's Gaël Duval said, "By '1+1=3' (or more), I mean that the value of combined companies Mandriva+Lycoris is certainly much more than the cumulative value of the companies taken separately."

Duval said, "Lycoris is a great product. When [Mandriva CEO] François told me about the opportunity with Lycoris, I tested it and I was quite impressed. I looked a bit more deeply and I was quite impressed when I realized that a big part of the work was Joe's work."

As far as Mandriva converting Lycoris users into paying Mandriva Club members, he said, "Of course we hope that a part of Lycoris Members subscribe the Club. But on the other hand, the goal is long term. On the first hand, Joe will certainly bring much added-value to our desktops, including Discovery, but we hope also on other products. This is likely to boost Mandriva products on the market. On the other hand, we want to be ready when the Linux desktop market (I mean for individuals) is going to take off."

"And when might that be?" we asked.

Duval replied:

I think that all the Linux desktop technology is mostly ready, now it's up to software publishers to decide if they go to the Linux market or not. But I'm confident that it will happen sooner than expected for two reasons:

1) there are good signs with the recent releases of Acrobat Reader 7 for Linux and Nero for Linux

2) I think that with the Mac OS move to Intel, it should ease the work for independent software publisher to release their Mac applications to Linux as well.

In any case, when this starts to happen, Duval expects Mandriva -- with the addition of Joe Cheek's work -- to be more than ready to handle the sudden increase in desktop GNU/Linux adoption.

Duval messaged back after this story was written to lay a fast-spreading rumor to rest: "No," he said, "we aren't going to change the name again..."


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