Looking at the Top Tier of Linux Distributions
Impact of the Mandrake-Conectiva Acquisition on the Linux Landscape
Part 2: Digging into Mandrake, Novell, and Red Hat Demographics and Financials
Mike Angelo -- 10 March 2005 (C) -- Page 2
Incidentally, Novell has a huge customer base. If Novell can move a substantial number of users of its networking products such as NetWare, GroupWise, and ZENworks to its Linux distributions, Novell's Linux business easily could climb to several hundred-million dollars annually. And that could put Novell's Linux business above Red Hat's Linux business.
Bruce Lowry told MozillaQuest Magazine:
Red Hat Demographics and Financials
Red Hat's principle office is in Raleigh, NC. It employs about 681 people. Red Hat's latest fiscal-year gross revenues were about $124-million US. That puts Red Hat revenues above Mandrake-Conectiva and Novell's Linux business -- for now.
The first Red Hat Linux distribution was released in 1994 by Marc Ewing. The company, Red Hat Software, came about in 1995 under the leadership of Bob Young.
Problems Trying to Compare Linux Distribution Providers
The easy way to compare Linux Distribution providers would be to compare the installed-base of their products. Unfortunately, it likely is close to impossible, if not impossible, to gauge the installed base of GNU-Linux operating systems in general -- let alone the installed base of any particular GNU-Linux distribution.
That's why this series of articles looks at other measures, such as revenues, to attempt to determine just which players are the top-tier of Linux distribution providers and how those players match up against each other.
Gauging the installed base of a Linux distribution is so difficult because in general it is legal to download, copy, and install GNU-Linux operating systems (OSs). Moreover, one copy of a GNU-Linux OS legally may be installed on an unlimited number of computers.
On the other hand, proprietary software and operating systems are a different matter. Downloads are not free. Nor are the CDs free either.
Because the vendor sells them, there is a trackable record of how many copes of the software or OS are in circulation. Moreover, because there is proprietary software licensing involved, there are trackable records to determine how many computers have the software or OS installed.
That of course presumes that all the copies of the proprietary software or proprietary operating system are legal copies and are installed legally. As a practical mater, there is going to be software and operating system piracy. Even so, proprietary software and OSs offer trackable records to determine how many computers have the software or OS installed -- despite some error due to unrecorded bootleg installations of the software or OSs.
Of course, an important comparison would be the quality and scope of the Linux distribution providers' products. But that is beyond the scope of this series of articles. Suffice it to say that all three, top-tier players have good GNU-Linux distributions. They would not be in that top tier if they did not.
Under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL), the GNU-Linux operating system is Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and no one can charge for it. However, Linux companies such as Mandrakesoft, Conectiva, Novell, Red Hat, SUSE, and others that add to the basic GNU-Linux OS may charge for the added value and for distributing the GNU-Linux OS. They also may charge for services such as product support, documentation, and so forth.
Unlike proprietary software, revenues or product sales alone cannot measure an open source software company's influence. That's because there are lots of users of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) that (legally) download and install the software.
Moreover, a single download of FOSS can be installed (legally) to an unlimited number of computers. Thus even if you can measure all the number of downloads of FOSS, that number serves as more of an indication of the minimum user-base -- rather than actual installed user-base.
The GNU-Linux operating system and much of the software that runs on the GNU-Linux OS are Free and Open Source Software. For the reasons set forth above, that makes it very difficult to gauge the installed user-base for GNU-Linux overall, or for a particular Linux distribution in particular.
For example, Mandrakesoft estimates the free version of its GNU-Linux OS distribution is downloaded some 10,000 times a day. Moreover, each download of Mandrake Linux could get installed on more than one computer.
Then add to that mix all the retail editions of Mandrake Linux. Don't forget that under the GPL, the GNU-Linux part of a Linux distribution from a single retail edition unit can be installed on an unlimited number of computers too.
Mandrakesoft's Gaël Duval estimates that between six-million and eight-million computers are running Mandrake Linux.
In discussing market penetration with Novell's Bruce Lowry, he mentioned:
In an e-mail discussion with Mandrakesoft CEO, François Bancilhon, he mentioned:
Thus, it is difficult to know if the gross revenue data set forth in this series of articles is a correct indication of how Mandrake-Conectiva, Novell-SUSE, and Red Hat stack up in terms of installed user-base. We would not be surprised at all if the Mandrake-Conectiva, actual, installed base is comparable to the installed user-bases of Novell-SUSE Linux or Red Hat Linux.
Moreover, if you parse out the Fedora Core user-base from the Red Hat user-base, Mandrake-Conectiva easily could have a larger user-base than does Red Hat. Whether the Fedora Core and Red Hat user bases should be parsed is another question and beyond the scope of this series of articles.
Consumer, SMB, and Enterprise Comparisons
Because of the GNU-Linux distribution model, it also is difficult to tell whether a particular GNU-Linux distribution is being used by individuals, small to medium sized businesses (SMB), enterprises, or whatever. Our guess is that Mandrake and SUSE are more popular among individuals and SMBs -- and that Red Hat and the new, Novell-branded Linux distribution just recently rolled out are more popular at the enterprise level.
Generally, Mandrake seems to be stronger in the desktop Linux arena than Red Hat and SUSE. And SUSE seems to be stronger in the desktop Linux arena than Red Hat.
In an on-line poll that ended on 14 January 2005 in which 3,841 people responded, DesktopLinux.com asked "What Desktop Linux Distribution(s) do you primarily use on your home or office desktop system?"
Mandrake Linux came in second with 14.1%. SUSE was third at 14% and Red Hat fourth at 12.3%. Surprisingly, Yoper was first in that poll with an 18.3% share.
Of course polls are only polls. Moreover, the DesktopLinux.com poll is an online poll.
In our e-mail discussion with Bruce Lowry, he mentioned:
When looking at just the financial data shown in Tables 1 and 2 in Part 1 of this series of articles, we agree with Bruce Lowry that Mandrake is pretty small compared to Novell and Red Hat. However, when you throw in other measures such as actual user base, popularity, product quality, and so forth we believe that Mandrake-Conectiva is part of the top tier of Linux distributions along with Novell-SUSE and Red Hat.
HP, IBM, SUN, and other large, top-tier companies that are involved with Linux are not included in today's discussion. In part, that's because they do not develop or market their own Linux distro. Rather, they use other Linux distros such as Mandrake, Red Hat, and SUSE for their Linux businesses. Also HP, IBM, and SUN have their own flavors of the Unix operating system.
Part 2 Summary
The Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) models make it difficult to compare installed base and deployment of Linux distributions. The influence of a Linux distribution on the Linux landscape in great part is a function of the actual installed base and deployment of the Linux distribution.
Another, hard to measure, indication of a Linux distribution provider's influence on the Linux landscape is the size and quality of the community surrounding the Linux distro. An interesting comparison exits here.
Conectiva, Mandrake, and Red Hat built substantial, excellent open source communities from the ground up as they and their Linux distributions developed. On the other hand, Novell in a sense bought its open source community when it bought SUSE and Ximian. When Novell bought SUSE and Ximian, it bought two GNU-Linux and FOSS companies with great existing open source communities that followed SUSE and Ximian to Novell.
Novell acquired Ximian in 2003. At the time of the acquisition, Ximian had less than 100 employees. Ximian started up in 1999.
In lieu of appropriate, Linux distribution, installed-base and deployment data, we looked at financial and demographic data for Mandrake-Conectiva, Novell, and Red Hat. That helps to get a feel of the three, top-tier Linux distribution providers and how they match up against each other. But it is not the same as having good, accurate, and complete installed-base data.
The financial position of a Linux distribution provider also can and does affect its impact upon the Linux landscape. The more and better employees it can afford, the more and better infrastructure it can afford, the more and better technical and customer support it can afford to provide, and so forth -- the more impact a Linux distribution company is going to have on the Linux landscape.
In Part 1, we compared how Mandrake-Conectiva, Novell, and Red Hat stack up against each other on several fundamental fiscal measures -- revenues, market values, revenue to market value ratios, price-earning ratios, and employee productivity. Today in Part 2 we looked further into the financials and demographics of Mandrake-Conectiva, Novell, and Red Hat.
We also looked at the problems of trying to compare Linux distribution providers. And we looked at where Mandrake-Conectiva, Novell, and Red Hat stand in the consumer, SMB, and enterprise arenas.
Mandrake-Conectiva is smaller on the money measures than are Novell-SUSE and Red Hat. However, Mandrakesoft Linux is a very good GNU-Linux distribution, it is very popular, and it has a large community of support. We believe that puts Mandrake-Conectiva in the top tier of Linux distribution providers. And we believe that makes Mandrake-Conectiva a major player in shaping and developing the Linux landscape.
In Part 3 the focus will be on the impact of the Mandrakesoft acquisition of Conectiva on the Linux landscape, and how it improves the Linux landscape.
We also will look at how Mandrake-Conectiva and Novell plan to grow their businesses. Will they do that by focusing their marketing endeavours on grabbing users from other Linux companies or by migrating people from other operating systems such as Microsoft Windows or Linux?
And then we will look at what's ahead for Mandrake-Conectiva, Novell-SUSE, and the Linux landscape. Stay tuned.