On Tuesday, popular French Linux vendor Mandrakesoft renewed its efforts to enter the business Linux space with the announcement that it will be releasing two new enterprise Linux distributions: Corporate Server and Corporate Desktop.

“These products have received specific development and testing efforts to make them as fit as possible for use in a business environment,” said Gaël Duval, Mandrakesoft’s co-founder.

Specifically, “the new Corporate Server is meant to facilitate deployment through its auto-installation and easy configuration capabilities. It can be used for any kind of server tasks, from LDAP [Lightweight Directory Access Protocol] to Web [serving],” Duval said.

As for the Corporate Desktop, it “was designed for the coming wave of Linux on the desktop. The problem of over-abounding, sometimes immature open-source software has been solved in this product through careful testing and screening of software applications. That makes Corporate Desktop immediately usable,” Duval said.

In addition, the enterprise products come with a longer development cycle of 12 to 18 months between releases and a five-year maintenance span. In the past, Mandrakesoft’s main focus was to make Linux available to the largest number of users, and it had very short development cycles.

Mandrakesoft first tried to enter the business market with the first version of Corporate Server in September 2000, followed by a second version in early 2003. The Corporate Desktop is Mandrakesoft’s first effort at a business Linux desktop.

According to the Paris-based company, both products have been designed to make deployment as simple, fast and painless as possible. So it is that both feature extensive hardware auto-detection and numerous configuration wizards to get users started as quickly as possible.

At the same time, the user-friendly interface is designed to open system internals to administrators. In addition, the new Linux distributions come with Mandrake-specific administration tools: DrakPark for network system maintenance and Mandrakeonline Pro to keep systems up to date with the latest patches.

Both distributions are based on the Linux 2.6 kernel. The server also comes with Samba 3 for Windows-style file serving and Apache 2 for Web serving.

The Corporate Desktop is designed to be a natural match to the Corporate Server, but it can work with other servers in a heterogeneous environment. For example, with Drakauth, the distributions’ authentication system, administrators can use not only such popular Linux authentication and directory systems as LDAP, but also Microsoft Corp.’s Active Directory.

The x86 and x86 65-bit compatible distributions also come with Citrix and NX thin clients on the desktop and NoMachine NX Server, for thin-client support, and CodeWeavers‘ CrossOver Office Server Edition, for Windows program compatibility.

Both distributions come with support plans. With the Standard option, which starts at $369.90, users get one year of Web support and one month of phone support. At the Premium level, which costs $829.90, users get a year of Web support and some phone support for a year.

Mandrakesoft provides technical assistance in both French and English from its Paris and Los Angles offices. Desktop pricing hasn’t been set yet.

Next Page: Can Mandrakesoft finally make an impact on the business market?

Will all this mean that Mandrakesoft will finally make an impression on the business market? Stacey Quandt, senior business analyst and open-source practice leader for the Robert Frances Group, thinks that it does.

“The combination of pricing pressure and consolidation on Linux distribution providers is beneficial for Mandrakesoft, since it competes against the higher cost Red Hat Enterprise Linux product and offers a distribution that tailors its engineering road map to the latest kernel development and testing efforts,” said Quandt.

But, “the primary caveat for businesses deploying Mandrakesoft is it’s not considered a Tier 1 Linux distribution by a number of software vendors and so ISV certification usually trails Red Hat and SuSE,” said Quandt.

Dan Kusnetzky, IDC program vice president for system software, also points out that “medium and large organizations are looking to their software suppliers for more than just software. Their requirements include software service and support, integration with major applications, application development tools, and hardware platforms. Mandrakesoft has some catching up to do in those areas.”

That being said, Kusnetzky concluded, “if Mandrakesoft can bring products and services to the market that help organizations lower their costs, simplify their environments, and offer high levels of reliability and performance, Mandrakesoft can make a place for itself at the table.”

Mandrakesoft is aware of the magnitude of what it’s attempting to do in making a major move to become a serious business Linux distributor.

“It’s quite challenging to design enterprise products because the needs of businesses are more difficult to assess and to cater for. But we’ve listened to our customers, we’ve dedicated the necessary time and resources to the task, and now I must say we’re quite proud of what has been achieved,” said François Bancilhon, Mandrakesoft’s CEO, in a statement.

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