Mandriva Linux: A Look Back at the Late, Great Open Source OS wikimedia.org

Mandriva Linux: A Look Back at the Late, Great Open Source OS

Mandriva Linux (a.k.a. Mandrake Linux), once a leading open source OS, disappeared in May 2015. Some reflections on the first user-friendly GNU/Linux system.

Remember Mandriva Linux? Once among the most popular Linux-based open source operating systems, it disappeared last year, along with Mandriva, Inc., the company that owned it. Belatedly, here's a retrospective look at late, great Mandriva Linux.

I was reminded of Mandriva recently while updating The VAR Guy's Open Source 50 list. As the list shows, in 2012 The VAR Guy (who is not me, by the way) expressed doubts about Mandriva's future. He turned out to be right. (When is he not?) In May 2015 Mandriva Inc. ceased operating and its GNU/Linux distribution disappeared.

But the open source OS's inglorious and little-reported demise belied the importance it once held within the open source ecosystem. Born in 1998 as a Red Hat-based GNU/Linux distribution originally known as Mandrake, Mandriva stood out from the pack by offering one of the first truly user-friendly open source operating systems.

What Made Mandriva Great

It did that primarily by forging custom system administration tools, which were available through an app called the Mandriva Control Center. They made it possible to perform tasks on GNU/Linux by pointing and clicking, rather than editing arcane text files, which was the norm in other distributions at the time.

Personally, I remember configuring my system's display on Mandriva and being shocked that I could make complex changes without touching xorg.conf by hand. That was a huge deal. Plus, Mandriva made it simple to get my wireless card working via Ndiswrapper through a graphical interface. At that point in my life, I had no idea how to work with tools like Ndiswrapper from the command line, and I probably would have given up on Linux entirely if I couldn't get wireless to work.

Last but not least, Mandriva was the first desktop where I saw Compiz, the open source compositing manager that makes your computer much, much prettier, in action. With Compiz and Mandriva, my desktop could become a cube, with an aquarium inside! That sealed the deal for me as I considered making the jump to using Linux full time.

(No, I no longer use the desktop cube. I have since concluded that its coolness exceeds its usefulness. I have reverted to a simple workspace scheme, sans virtual fish.)

Lawsuit and Demise

Mandriva also enjoyed the distinction of being the only open source operating system forced to change its name to settle copyright-infringement charges related to a comic book character. In 2004 Mandrake Linux became Mandriva Linux because the Hearst Corporation, which owned the Mandrake the Magician trademark, sued the Mandrake developers.

The last release of Mandriva appeared in 2011. By then, ease-of-use had ceased to be unusual within the open source ecosystem. Graphical displays on most distributions now auto-configure themselves, and wireless cards are usually plug-and-play affairs. In light of changes like these, Mandriva stopped offering unique value a long time ago. And it did not really keep pace with the shift toward mobile devices or the cloud.

For my part, I switched to Ubuntu circa 2008. I barely noticed when Mandriva disappeared last summer. It's only now, looking back, that I fully appreciate how significant Mandriva once was in driving open source forward.

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