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Francois Bancilhon, CEO, Mandriva

Francois BancilhonIt's been a turnaround year for Linux operating system distributor Mandriva. As CEO Francois Bancilhon has takes his company into 2006, he is looking for ways to regain some momentum for its OS in the enterprise world.

Mandriva's turnaround began in March 2004 when it emerged from French bankruptcy court. It then made small but key acquisitions, as well as released software updates, to improve its enterprise clout.

First was the July 2004 purchase of Parisian Linux service and support company Edge-IT.

In January the company rolled out Corporate Server 3.0 and Corporate Desktop 3.0, the first update to its enterprise-based software in two years.

Then came Mandriva's February $2.3 million purchase of Brazilian Linux distribution Conectiva, a Linux platform focused on the government and corporate markets in Latin America.

Following that acquisition was the name change to Mandriva, an amalgamation of the Mandrakesoft (a name contested by another company) it once held and Conectiva brands.

Mandriva 10, launched in October, is tailored to the small-office, home-office (SOHO) and includes server-management applications.

While the company's CEO, Francois Bancilhon, acknowledges the importance of U.S. market-share strength, he thinks Mandriva's emergence as a dominant Linux distributor will come at the hands of businesses in emerging countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Bancilhon talked with internetnews.com earlier this week about his plans for Mandriva in the enterprise and the growth of the Linux desktop.

Q: Do you consider U.S. market share for your corporate Linux distribution essential for Mandriva going forward?

Absolutely. We believe the corporate market is an essential piece of our business. We started developing the corporate market in places where we have a strong physical presence, that is Europe and Latin America, and we plan to increase it in the U.S. but we haven't started doing that seriously as of yet.

Q: Red hat and SUSE Linux are obviously the market leaders. Is Mandriva going to be able to find some space and become a legitimate competitor?

I absolutely believe so. First of all, the world cannot live under a duopoly of just a U.S. distribution. Secondly, we have strong differentiators like strength in the desktop in which obviously the other players don't believe very much.

Our ability to provide flexible licensing is essential, and then the BRIC [Brazil, Russian, India, China] market is an important piece of the market where we think we have very good positioning and an extremely good image.

Q: Are your competitors moving aggressively in the BRIC region?

We'll see Red Hat in some locations but, you know, they have the problem of being extremely expensive. We're seeing them here and there in some markets, but not very much.

Q: Outside of lower cost, how do you expect to gain market share in the BRIC region?

The strength of the administrative tools. We have a product for deployment, maintenance and administration called Pulse, which we believe is way ahead of the Red Hat Network, as well as the flexibility of the license, which we believe is a very key point.

Q: When I think of Red Hat, I think of U.S. and with SUSE Linux I think Europe. How do you get people to think of Mandriva as more than a French Linux distributor?

First of all we do no more than 20 to 25 percent of our business in France. We're an international company. Second, we started this PR effort we're doing now which we hadn't done in the past three years: [talking] about our true impact on the market and a reminder we're alive and kicking and very serious about our product. I think we're going to rebuild our strong image and be very present in many markets.

Q: When you talk about the desktop, Linux's strength has always been with the servers. Can Linux, and Mandriva, move forward with the desktop to make it a viable alternative to Microsoft or any of the others?

I think the desktop solution, based on Linux technologies, is absolutely viable today. Basically, when we do a desktop migration, people know very, very precisely what they want so they come with a set of requirements that are extremely well-defined. Step one of that study will be to build the exact desktop they want, and we're able to do that in all cases we've seen at this stage.

Q: Are manufacturers giving Linux co-billing with the Windows platform for device drivers and peripherals?

I think we're in a vicious circle there because, as the Linux market is expanding, we're getting stronger relationships with hardware vendors, and at the same time we're expanding our own market.

The relationship we have with HP and Intel is a sign this is really happening and they'll keep happening.

Intel has a specific division focusing on desktop Linux and they're working with the following objective: that 10 percent of all their Intel desktop machines will be shipping with Linux by the end of the decade.

That's basically one growth point per year over the next four, five years. It's a very strong push of the market.

Q: Intel is an example of a company embracing Linux. Are there others that are not?

We see some companies more aggressive than others but, more and more, the hardware vendors we've been talking to all have a Linux plan in place.