Mandrake Linux Founder Back, Virtually

Whatever happened to the founder of Mandrake Linux? He’s back on the scene with a new open source startup and looking to break some ground with its first offering called a Virtual Desktop solution.

Ulteo’s new enterprise Open Virtual Desktop Solution is an attempt to break into the broader virtualization and remote desktop space. It’s a market that is fiercely competitive with Citrix, VMware and Red Hat’s Qumranet all angling for a piece of the market.

“So far we were focusing on an Online desktop that was running on our server, but now this is ready to be installed inside corporations, with a comprehensive administration console,” Gael Duval, the company’s founder, told

The Ulteo Online Desktop is a hosted service that provides users with Web-based access to popular open source programs like OpenOffice 3.0 . Though Ulteo has a business model for the online desktop, it is only one part of the larger strategy that now includes the new enterprise Open Virtual Desktop Solution.

It’s also safe to say the product incorporates a lot of what Duval picked up in the past decade of running an open source company. Ten years ago, Duval founded Mandrake Linux (now renamed Mandriva). Two years ago, he was unceremoniously dismissed in a shakeup.

With the launch of the new company’s first enterprise product, Ulteo is offering 1 GB of space and 25 minutes a day for free as part of its hosted online desktop product. The paid version ranges from $7.50 a month to $29.99 a month for more space and time. Ulteo claims that the online desktop that has been available for nearly 12 months and already delivers over 140,000 user sessions.

On the other hand, the new enterprise Virtual Desktop solution can be installed on an enterprise’s internal servers. The Ulteo Virtual desktop is offered as an open source download, free of charge. Duval expects to use a support mechanism in order to build a business from the free product.

“Our business model is to convert a fraction of Free/Open Source users into a commercial relationship that includes support, and extra services,” Duval said.

With the 1.0 release, the Virtual Desktop solution is limited to delivering only Linux applications though the plan is to enable it to deliver Windows applications by early 2009. Compared to a typical virtualization setup, which requires additional software to connect to the host server, the Ulteo solution uses the end user’s Web browser.

“Ulteo Open Virtual Desktop just needs a browser so from a user perspective, [there’s] no need to install specific client software, and of course, no need to have Linux on desktops,” Duval explained. “You can use whatever OS on the client side, assuming that it runs Firefox, Internet Explorer or any compatible web browser.”

On the server side, though Ulteo will run on any Linux system, the prerequisite page for Ulteo currently lists Ubuntu Linux as the required server. Duval’s rationale for specifying Ubuntu was for practical reasons.

“The reason is rather technical, it’s easy to find good Debian packagers and we have such skills inside, so it was the best choice for a first release as we wanted something very clean and easy to install,” Duval said.

Ubuntu which is based on Debian Linux uses the .DEB packaging system as opposed to the RPM (Red Hat Package Manager) that is used by Red Hat, Novell SUSE and Duval’s former company Mandriva.

“Anyway, we want to support major other OSes,” Duval added. “That’s the reason why we have started an installation guide for any Linux system, and one in particular for Red Hat because we have projects with customers that use Red Hat.”

For Duval, getting to try his hand at another open source startup gives him a change to apply some lessons learned from his founding days of Mandrake Linux. There is also at least one key difference for him this time around.

“Working at Ulteo is quite similar to what happened with Mandrake during the early years,” Duval said. “The main difference is that now, I’m 10 years older than developers. Anyway, one of the lessons I’ve learned is: this time, try to keep the control. But now it seems that nobody complains anymore that I’m too young.”

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