For a Linux distribution only a little over two years old, the uptake of Mageia has been impressive, with the distro now regularly being found Distrowatch's top five distros, along with heavyweights such as Fedora, Ubuntu and Mint.
However, although the distribution only launched in September 2010, it wasn't an entirely new project. Its core developers, and many of its early users, were drawn from Mandriva Linux (née Mandrake Linux) after Mandriva subsidiary Edge IT was liquidated, leaving many of the people who had worked on the Linux distribution out of a job.
A statement issued by Mageia's founders in the wake of Edge IT's liquidation explained that they intended to fork Mandriva: "As you may have heard, the future of the Mandriva Linux distribution is unclear.
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"Most employees working on the distribution were laid off when Edge-IT was liquidated. 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... People working on it just do not want to be dependent on the economic fluctuations and erratic, unexplained strategic moves of the company."
"Although it seems a little less oppressive this far along, a bunch of developers had just been laid off, and that worried everyone for the future of Mandriva; it seemed like a very important place to do the fork, and keep going," says Trish Fraser, a member of Mageia's communications team.
"People who enjoyed doing things the Mandriva way but were taken aback by the corporate attitudes were ready for a more stable place, and they found a great home in Mageia," she says.
"It's one of the most inclusive, friendly and communicating environments I've found in free software, and it's very global."
The distribution's third release, snappily dubbed Mageia 3, is due in April. Margeia 3 hit beta in December last year. In the lead-up to its release, Computerworld Australia caught up with Fraser to talk about the lessons open source projects should learn from the Mandriva experience and future directions for Mageia.
As a result of the experience with Mandriva and Edge IT, Mageia has a strong focus on community governance, "so that the stability of the distro won't be endangered by any particular corporation or group," Fraser says.
"The instability of the corporate environment was very uncomfortable for everyone, whether developers, users or other parts of the community."
The Mageia Board is elected at general assemblies by active members of the Mageia team, and Mageia.Org is a foundation incorporated in France.
Asked about other distributions that are closely linked to a single vendor, Fraser says there's always potential danger for a community in such situations.
"Perhaps I'm wary because of Mandriva, but I think there's always the possibility [of problems arising] when a distro is managed by a corporation rather than the community, if there's nothing built in to make sure the community's voice is heard," she says.
"It might not fall apart, but it could happen. Mageia won't fall apart in that way."
Mageia's popularity, according to Fraser, is as much about "Mageia-the-community" as it is about "Mageia-the-distro". Much of that community was readymade, with users and contributors coming over from Mandriva.
"To begin with, Mandriva users were coming over to see what the fuss was about; and then people liked what they saw (and the community they could be part of) and they stayed," Fraser says.
Since Mageia 2 was released, there has been a more general influx of users as the distribution received positive reviews
Fraser believes that Mageia has top notch team leaders around, and it has attracted a good collection of developers. A report on the state of the community issued in 2011 revealed close to 100 people had commit rights for the packages bundled in the distro. However, Fraser says she is keen to build up the Atelier group she is part of that brings together the distribution's Web, communication and design teams.
"Where we really need people is in our Atelier team," she says. "Most of the people in that team are wearing several hats. People who like to do artwork, communication, website stuff — that's where we could use some more people"
When it comes to the community around Mageia, Fraser believes its inclusiveness has been a key strength. "Teams are approachable, and support is friendly," she says. "This might be more difficult to sustain in a much larger community, but so far it's been a very strong part of our working modus.
"We don't have flame-fests, there's a better proportion of women (visible and active!) in the community than many other distros, we aren't particularly country- or language-centric — and people concentrate on supporting each other and getting the work done as well as we can.
Like Mandriva, Mageia is a desktop-focussed distribution. Release notes describe the distro as "agnostic" when it comes to desktop environment, letting users choose between KDE4 and GNOME 3, or from a range of other desktop environments and window managers.
"At the moment we're staying with the desktop," Fraser says, and there are no plans for a mobile install, although some people have been experimenting with touchscreens and there has been talk of an ARM port.
Mageia 3 hit its first beta release in December; a release candidate is due in early March. It adds newer versions of KDE and GNOME, the 3.7 kernel, and upgraded package management tools. Looking beyond version 3, Fraser hopes that Mageia 4 will have greater accessibility options and an accessible install based on Gnome-a11y.
Accessibly is a key area of desktop Linux that, in general, needs improvement, Fraser says. "For instance, for a blind or vision-impaired person, Linux generally is a minefield," Fraser says. "Desktop integration under the hood is still very messy; if you're using GNOME with KDE apps or vice versa, screen readers have a really hard time — and applications like LibreOffice or Audacity, for instance, have hardly been accessible at all, although newer versions of Orca are improving that."
Latest version: 2 (March 2012 — Mageia 3 due April 2013)
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