Want to buy a Linux company?

Want to buy your very own Linux company? Two important ones, Mandriva and Novell are looking for buyers.

There's a world of difference though between the two. Mandriva, which at one time was a major Linux distributor, is in serious financial hot-water. Novell, which has been targeted by two hostile takeovers attempts in the last few years, seems to have decided that to either cash out or to wrestle control back from some of its stockholders. At this point, it's hard to tell which goal Novell actually has in mind.

Mandriva's goal is clear though: it's simple survival. The French-based company has never had an easy time of it. In 2004, Mandriva went through a bankruptcy. Mandriva followed this with a failed attempt to take on Red Hat and Novell in corporate servers. The company also fired its co-founder, Gael Duval, which lead to a bitter fight that did the company little good.

Since then, Mandriva has struggled on. While the distribution is well-received, especially on the desktop, the company's finances have never done that well. It seems that in the last twelve months its financial situation has gone from bad to worse. Despite that, there are at least two potential buyers: lightapp a low-cost educational desktop company and Linagora, a French open-source service and sales company.

While no numbers are being discussed, Mandriva has a market cap hovering around 2-million Euros. That makes it a penny stock by stock market standards, and thus not an especially safe investment. Still, as part of another company, I can see Mandriva doing its new owner some good.

Novell, which still has almost a billion in cash, is another story. While most reporting has been focusing on the company finding a buyer, probably a private-equity firm, I suspect they'd also just be happy to find a partner who was willing to buy out Elliot Associates and other disgruntled stockholders.

As reported by The VAR Guy, Novell's board official position is that they've "authorized a thorough review of various alternatives to enhance stockholder value. These alternatives include, but are not limited to, a return of capital to stockholders through a stock repurchase or cash dividend, strategic partnerships and alliances, joint ventures, a recapitalization and a sale of the Company." So, Novell, with a market cap of just over two-billion, it seems to me, is looking for more than just a buyer. I think they're looking for new stock-holders and/or partners.

In the meantime, Elliot Associates hasn't given up their hopes of buying the company. Indeed, now that I think of it, I wonder if some of what Novell may be up to not so much trying to sell the company, as it making sure that Elliot understands that, if they continue to pursue a hostile takeover, they're going to have to pay a lot more than their initial offer of $5.75 a share--about 2 billion dollars--which Novell has already dismissed as 'inadequate.'

So, there you go: A Linux company for buyers both small and large. In the end, I think Mandriva will find a buyer and continue to struggle on, and Novell will stay independent and under its current management when all is said and done.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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