One of the aspects of the open-source software model is that disagreements over a course of action can lead to a split in the community of volunteers who develop a particular product, ultimately leading to the birth of a new project, called a ‘fork’.
Many, especially outside the open-source field, see this as a disadvantage that has led to the existence of hundreds of operating systems, with dozens claiming to be the ultimate Linux or open source operating system. Forking, in their opinion, has led to the fragmentation of the open-source market and sapped the movement of its enormous potential and cohesion.
On the other hand, if anybody truly doubted the usefulness of ‘forks’ and the ability to create them, the case of the Mageia distribution should lay any misgivings to rest.
The operating system was truly born in May this year, when the community of developers released Version 2 of the Mageia Linux operating system. Technically though, it was born in late 2010 when a group of disgruntedled senior developers of the France-based Mandriva operating system (formerly Mandrake Linux) abandoned Mandriva SA, the company that had been leading and supporting the development of the eponymous Linux operating system.
They were protesting the various policies of the company, including lay-offs and outsourcing of development and wanted to set up a non-commercial body to further develop the operating system. “We do not trust the plans of Mandriva SA anymore and we don’t think the company (or any company) is a safe host for such a project,” they had said.
As Linux and Mandriva were open source, the company did not own the code, and could not prevent the split-away group from using it to create their own version of the operating system. However, since it did own the Mandriva trade mark, the developers had to come up with the Mageia (which means Magic in
Their first version, released in the middle of last year, was a bit of let down as the group was plagued by several issues such as getting the infrastructure in place. Version 1, therefore, was more of a stabilized release of the old Mandriva distribution.
Since then, much water has flowed under the bridge. Mandriva SA tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate its operations with the help of foreign companies, but ultimately decided to depend on the outside community for much of its code.
Meanwhile, Mageia’s version 2 has become a hit among users, judging by the distribution’s fast rise on Distrowatch.com – a magazine on open source operating system that also ranks these different flavors according to the number of hits their respective pages on the site get (see chart above). The distrowatch rankings are used as an indicator of user interest, though they may not always correspond to actual usage.
Mageia, which used to be at around number 10 or lower a year ago, has shot up to number 2 in recent days and is next only to Linux Mint. Ubuntu, which used to be the number 1 for years together, is now at number 3.
Mageia is today perhaps the only newbie-friendly Linux operating system that is produced totally without any support from any commercial entity, apart from Debian.