"We are in the business of building communities," says Henri Poole, chief executive of Mandrakesoft, the French software company which publishes the Linux-Mandrake 'distribution', emphasising the essential difference between it and other distributions for the Linux open source operating system.
Distributions are collections of software that go to make up a working Linux system. They are needed because, Linux, properly speaking, is nothing but a 'kernel' - that is, a piece of software that handles basic computer functions. It communicates with the hard disk, keyboard, screen, and so on.
These functions are essential, but useless without other software necessary to carry out productive tasks. Some of this software includes word processors and spreadsheet software, but much of it is far more fundamental, like programs to list files. Without distributions, users would have to spend weeks collecting this software themselves.
There are many such distributions, including the popular RedHat, the German SuSE, and Debian, which is a volunteer effort. Linux-Mandrake was rather a late comer to this market.
But that has not stopped it gaining acceptance rather rapidly. In July 2000, PC Data, the computer sales data company, gave Mandrake a 31 per cent market share in the US, ahead of the hitherto market-leader RedHat. Mr Poole puts this success down to the unique way Mandrakesoft partners with its customers, and integrates their ideas into its final products.
The distinct nature of Linux-Mandrake was there at the company's inception. It was founded by Gael Duval, who, as a poor computer science student, wanted to be able to use some powerful programming tools.
To do this on Windows, he says, would have cost him more than he could afford, but on Linux these tools were free, as was all the documentation. He was impressed enough with Linux that he wanted to find a way of providing it to those who were not as computer literate as himself. He started to program tools for easy installation and asked his non-computer-literate brother to test them.
Bit by bit, he turned it into what is commonly regarded as the easiest-to-use version of Linux. This was in July 1998.
By October, he had met Jacques le Marois and Frederic Bastok via the internet. As they developed the Linux-Mandrake product, they made ease-of-use central to their design philosophy. The first commercial version was released in early 1999.
In this way, the company was founded on the internet, which continues to be essential to the way it does business. Linux-Mandrake uses the internet to encourage dialogue with and among its users, thereby creating communities. Part of this dialogue and community building process involves the 'cooker'. This is part of the Mandrakesoft website, where users and volunteer developers can not only exchange ideas, but also take part in creating the next version of the distribution.
The 'cooker', though, is not entirely novel. It is very similar to the way that Linux itself was created. Almost all successful open source software depends on volunteers suggesting amendments and re-coding part of the software to iron out bugs and add new features.
A benevolent dictatorship - or sometimes, an oligarchy of more senior volunteer programmers - decides whether to incorporate the proposed changes into program.
Not only is the Linux kernel itself created like this, but the vast majority of other software that goes to make up a distribution. Mandrakesoft, therefore, has integrated the way that Linux was created into its corporate culture.
Unlike much of the computer industry, Mr Poole believes that Linux is ready for the desktop. He says that he uses Linux for all his office work, mostly by using StarOffice, the office suite, recently bought by Sun Microsystems, that is similar to the popular Microsoft Office. Sun has now released StarOffice with an open source licensing scheme under the name OpenOffice.
Mr Duval expects that StarOffice will become better now that its source code can be improved publicly by open source developers. As it improves, it will gain popularity and with it will Linux, which will have an office suite to rival Microsoft Office.
Mandrake may well be suited to the desktop, but it won "Best Linux-Distribution/Server" at the 1999 LinuxWorld Expo - and Mr Poole says Mandrake will not stop working to improve the distribution on the server side as well.
The market, he says, for an easy-to-use Linux distribution is growing, both for servers in large enterprises as well as small and medium-sized business, and on the desktop. There has to be a future for a cheap, easy-to-use operating system, hasn't there?